Columbia University has yet to release their tuition costs for the 2020-2021 academic year. But that hasn’t stopped Columbia students from calling for the school to freeze tuition in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the Columbia College Student Council, the Engineering Student Council, and General Studies Student Council sent a notice to Columbia’s Board of Trustees urging them to end the annual tradition of hiking tuition. While other universities such as the University of Chicago have announced publicly that they will not raise tuition next year on account of the pandemic, Columbia, which has the highest tuition of all Ivy League schools, has made no such public statement.
Columbia’s Commitment to Financial Aid and Its Reliance on Tuition
An excellent piece in The Columbia Daily Spectator by Sofia Partida entitled “Columbia wants the best and the brightest students. To keep up with top-ranked schools, it needs the richest too.” shines a bright lantern on Columbia’s struggle to be an agent of upward social mobility for low-income students in need of financial aid while covering its enormous operating costs. As Partida writes, “At Columbia, the median income of students on financial aid has stagnated over the last decade, even after the University has increased its financial aid spending overall. Today, the number of Columbia College students on financial aid is 10 percent less than it was 30 years ago. Half of all students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science pay the full sticker price of tuition and hail from families that land in the top 8.5 percent of the U.S. income distribution. These numbers reveal that underneath the University’s promotional materials and public resolve, Columbia’s commitment to undergraduate financial aid faces a great tension—one between the cost of its expansion and research programs that rank Columbia among the world’s top universities and the price of tuition that makes these programs possible.”
Most Universities Are Not Truly Need-Blind; They’re Need-Aware
Loyal readers of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog know that it has long been our assertion that most highly selective colleges — despite their claims to the contrary — are not in fact need-blind. Rather, they’re need-aware. They factor in a student’s ability to pay the full cost of tuition when weighing that student’s case for admission. Simply put, if a college were truly need-blind, that school wouldn’t ask if a student needed financial aid on the same application that the very admissions officer evaluating that student’s case for admission can read with their own two eyes. So as our economy struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to our readers that universities like Columbia — and all highly selective colleges for that matter — will rely on tuition payments even more.
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