Why Tuition is About To Get a Lot Higher

By Jamie Albaum

New renovation project raises questions

The Reily Student Recreation Center, Tulane’s only gymnasium and recreation facility, is known by many as a haven for health nuts and fitness freaks. It is also, however, the subject of an upcoming capital improvement plan that has left many students scratching their heads. As part of the university’s initiative to improve the undergraduate experience, Reily is expected to undergo a total renovation in the next ten years.

Two weeks ago, some members of USG and I met with a private consultant that Tulane hired to glean students’ thoughts concerning the project. He informed us that the renovation would cost an estimated $86 million. After picking our jaws up from the floor and recovering from the shock of such a statistic, we offered the consultant some constructive criticism and feedback.

Little did I know, my peers and I had uncovered the nitty gritty details of a wider problem that has been plaguing our university since Hurricane Katrina: that of funneling money into projects at odds with Tulane’s mission.

It is the administration's hope that the 86 million dollar price tag will be covered half by donations and half by tuition or student fee hikes. The very thought of a student fee increase for this project (rightfully) frustrated all the students sitting around that board room table. “There’s a general feeling amongst most undergraduates at Tulane that tuition increases are unwanted. Students are concerned that it’s already very costly to attend Tulane, and they don’t want the cost to rise any more,” says Autumn Gibbons, President of the Undergraduate Student Government. Nicholas Fears, President of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, noted that especially for graduate students, increases in student fees are strongly opposed since graduate students are located downtown and thus rarely use or reap the benefits of the programs that are funded by the recreation centre fee.

Both President Gibbons and President Fears have sat on the university Budget Review Committee meetings, and communicated to the Board of Trustees that any increase in student fees would be met unfavourably by their constituents. Unfortunately, neither Gibbons nor Fears feel that their voices, and consequently the voices of all students, were heeded. “I believe the Board decided to go against those recommendations. They raised the academic support fee by $100 and the Reily Center fee by $60,” Fears asserts.

Tuition and/or student fee increases are not unheard of at private universities. Annual increases of around 2-4%, just above the U.S. rate of inflation, are typical. The question remains, then, if tuition hikes are inevitable, what other facets of this university need more immediate attention than a Reily overhaul?

“I think academic changes would be favourable for students, especially renovations to buildings that are notorious for being subpar,” says Gibbons. A lot of students have pointed to the abysmal states of Percival Stern Hall and Newcomb Hall. Stern houses the majority of the research labs for the School of Science and Engineering. It was built in 1971 and hasn’t been updated since. Newcomb Hall’s basement seems to flood every time there’s a decent downpour, and its classrooms pale in comparison to the ultramodern, Smartboard-filled counterparts in the Business School. But one building that is just crying out for help is the Hutchinson Memorial Building on the Medical School campus. Four of Hutchinson’s eight floors are condemned. “The fact that these floors are currently unusable, in combination with a desperate need for study space on the downtown campus, makes the request for an $80 million project for the Reily Center completely absurd,” Fears says. Some graduate students have even resorted to renting out Airbnb’s during exams in order to make up for the lack of study space.

Inside Percival Stern Hall: lab equipment lies scattered throughout a dark and dreary laboratory

Inside Percival Stern Hall: lab equipment lies scattered throughout a dark and dreary laboratory

As a self-proclaimed and nationally-recognized research institution, it is appalling that Tulane would prioritize the renovation of the Reily Center over the academic and research buildings that foster the intellectual exploration central to the university’s mission. "We need to continue to invest in a way that supports the Tulane mission of exemplary research and academics," proclaims Fears, or we need to change our title to a student-life focused institution. There are so many ways for the administration to put our money where their mouths are: they just have to open their ears.

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CampusLara Miloslavsky