An Open Letter about Tuition and Financial Aid

The cost of undergraduate education in the United States has never been higher. Some have already called the enormous tuition hikes and the blossoming size of student loan debt (now well over a trillion dollars) “a national crisis”. The days of “working your way through college” have slowly slipped into oblivion. Even so, we believe that most students now in attendance at North Park University trust in the value and quality of our education and looking at the national picture we would be correct- a college education is, over a life time, a good investment. There are multiple economic explanations about the why and how of rising college tuition over the past several decades and a plethora of proposed solutions to the problem. Financial aid, tuition cost and student loans are national topics that require large scale resolutions. The topic has become a front and center issue in the 2016 Presidential Election. While all of these discussions are compelling and North Parkers should be participating in the national dialogue; we would rather focus our attention closer to home.

Our hope as Student Government is for North Parkers to both talk about national issues but also feel a sense of ownership and become participants in such issues. We believe that this is a necessary step in North Park becoming the “Next Great American University” as Provost Emerson eloquently phrased it. We see that that great organizations and institutions set trends as well as respond to them. We believe that it will take the efforts of students, alumni, faculty, staff and administration to make this dream into a reality. We believe that our insight as student leaders may add important insights to the resolving some of difficulties students experience dealing with financial matters within our University.  We hope such insights will encourage more high school students to become North Parkers and for more North Parkers to finish their undergraduate work at North Park.

As we begin this conversation, we ask that faculty and particularly the Senior Team as those responsible for the management of the day to day operations of the University take our suggestions and recommendations seriously as it has to do with this highly important issue to students; that is financial aid and tuition price setting.. We write this letter from a position of concern and humility. We trust that our Administrators have our best interests in mind as well as the future of the university. We believe that they are highly competent and willing to hear our voices as students. We recognize that we don’t know everything about the financial happenings of our university and are willing to learn. We write this letter from a position of hoping that adding our voice to this conversation that we might contribute to the effort to actively improve our university.

The following are our four recommendations which can be seen as interconnected but independent ideas:

  • Be more intentional about financial transparency and sharing information with students.

Last semester, an SGA member in a conversation with an administrator was informed that tuition at North Park is set to rise a little over 4% this coming year, meaning a $1,100 increase for returning students. In our estimation as Student Government, the student body feels highly uninformed about this development and the general financial matters of the university. We as well as our peers desire the opportunity to understand the reasoning behind tuition increases or other financial matters that may impact our lives as students. We believe that any responsible individual would want to have an intimate knowledge of their financial situations. In addition, many of the internal workings of the university remain a mystery to us.  For example, students would be highly appreciative of seeing “a tuition break down” of what our tuition dollars go to and contribute to functioning and operation of the University. We are unaware of where to go or who to ask if we did want to obtain such information.

Students understand that rising tuition may be unavoidable in many circumstances but we feel mostly in the dark about the process and rationale of those decisions which affect us deeply. We believe as students that knowledge fosters understanding. We believe that students would be highly grateful to have access to this type information and hear the reasoning behind financial decisions that will affect so many of us personally. Again, we believe that by making information accessible like a breakdown of exactly where our tuition dollars are spent and informing returning student of tuition increases before they appear on a bill, would foster understanding and help North Park Students feel more responsibility for their own educational process.

  • Make a Tuition Pledge

North Park University has a “Commitment to Affordability” which we as students are highly thankful for. In addition, the cost of North Park is 15% less than many of its competitors.  For many of us this fact was a major contributing factor in our decisions to come to North Park. However, each of us has had a friend, classmate or teammate who has left this University citing financial reasons.  This may be a flawed perception but it is a striking theme of our experience nevertheless. It would assist students and our families in planning for paying for college if we knew what it fully cost for four years, at least in terms of tuition. So we ask that the administration consider expanding the “Commitment to Affordability” to include a Tuition Pledge.

A Tuition Pledge would mirror the Illinois’ state policy of requiring public institutions to charge the same amount each semester for a continuous 8 semesters, also called the “Truth in Tuition” Laws. In plain language, we as students would pay the same amount our last semester at North Park as we paid for our first with an exception for inflation.

Students are all incredibly appreciative for the scholarships and grants that allow us to attend North Park but when increases to our tuition occur, many students or their families may be unprepared to raise the extra money or may have to take out supplementary loans. The rise in tuition for next year (around 4%) would roughly equal $1,100 dollars per returning students which may be a very overwhelming amount for certain students. It would give students a peace of mind, knowing exactly what size of investment they are making in North Park and subsequently be able to plan ahead accurately. The financial situations of many students are tenuous at best; thus the increase of even a couple hundred dollars can mean not returning or taking a semester off to work.

  • Please let students become eligible for new scholarships. 

Another approach to assist students in dealing with raising cost would be to allow students to re-file their North Park Financial Aid as new aid becomes available. “Frozen Financial Aid” Packages are intended to make sure that universities don’t withdrawal funding during a student’s time at their intuition. This is a positive intention.  However, as the four seniors on Executive Committee noted; our tuition has gone up every year that we have been enrolled North Park yet we received the exact same financial aid package for each year. Financial aid has increased for new students, but as returning students we are not eligible for those increases, but we are responsible for covering tuition increases.  As students, it would assist us and our families with rising cost if our financial aid was not frozen in increases for our financial aid packages.

We will use a member of SGA as an example to show how much they would save just this year and if they were eligible for increases available for new students.

“Student Leader” is a senior.

“Student Leader”  receives $9000 in grants and scholarships.  A $6000 Presidential Scholarship and a $3000 North Park Grant. They cover the rest in loans, payment and help from family.

If “Student Leader” was eligible for the current financial aid listed on the North Park Website, he would receive $12,000 in aid. The Presidential scholarship has increased by $1500 since X’s year of entry, and there is now a grant for dependents of clergy (“Student Leader’s” mother is a pastor).

“Student Leader” would be saving $3000 annually and $9000 for last 3 years of enrollment. As any student will tell you, $9000 in loans, pay checks, extra requests to family is a huge amount. Allowing students to be eligible for new grants or increases in scholarships would go a long way in helping students deal with rising tuition costs.

  • Incentivize our grades during students’ North Park Career through Scholarship Reassessment

Another policy we believe would encourage students to both work harder in college and increase retention would be to have some of portion of scholarships reassessed in proceeding years of college work. Opening up scholarships based on work done at North Park could be highly beneficial for student academic success. For example, if a student won a Presidential Scholarship, they could “earn” a higher scholarship for their sophomore year, if Summa Cumm Laude grades (3.9gpa) could be attained and maintained.

Currently our system rewards students mainly for a combination of the work they did in high school, and standardized test scores. However, we know that the SAT and ACT are not strong indicators of student success.  Furthermore, when we as student leaders know how different the high school experience can be among our peers. Scholarships given based on success in college coursework give students a tangible financial incentive to work hard at NPU before they graduate and give students a redeeming opportunity from their high school experience.

This policy could also enable North Park to live more into its existing values. North Park just passed a critical milestone; no racial or ethnic majority in the school’s undergraduate population. Part of the reason that this milestone in terms of North Park’s commitment to diversity has materialized is in part due to programs like Compass and Lighthouse. However, we know that in America, it is still more difficult for minority students to get to college and stay in college.  Education is not equal in America and for North Park to sustain the gains that it has made with diversity, it is important to develop strategies that assist students from various backgrounds succeed.

There are two arguments that arise immediately to this suggestion; that it is not “right” to offer monetary incentives to undergraduate students for grades, and that it causes undo stress for students. To answer the first objection: higher education is already about monetary incentives. The majority of students are in classes because their parents and society told them that this is how increase our earning potential or find a vocation. It is the sad truth for us as today’s students. While college can still truly be a molder of character and expander of knowledge, it has become hugely a financial and vocational decision. As for the second argument, establishing a “floor” for the scholarships would prevent a bad semester from making students have to drop out and we do not view it as the responsibility of the university to protect us from stress. We are not saying that students should just “get over it” but that we as college students should not be coddled, by our administrators and parents or ourselves. We want to be taught and mentored but we also want direct opportunities for owning our experience at North Park.

In conclusion, we believe that instituting these policies would enrich our experience as students currently and assist in recruitment and retention in the future. We want to see the university succeed and hope that this letter provides student voice to this use. We want to be alumni of a blooming school and to keep our friends North Parkers for four years. We are partnering this letter with attempts and other offices to increase student financial literacy but we would love to continue this conversation.

In that vein, we would love any member of the Senior Team to meet with us personally on this letter and these issues, write back to us, to speak to the any part of the SGA in our general Meetings or Executive Committee Meetings held every other Monday or engage the whole campus at the Town Hall on Financial Aid and Literacy planned for 10:30, March 4th. We love North Park and got involved with SGA for that reason. We are partnering with professors and faculty and staff to continue to improve students’ experiences at North Park when it comes to these highly important issues. Please continue to engage with us to improve aspects of the university that we hold dear.  We welcome your feedback and mentorship.

Many thanks for all the work you do for our University and our home away from home,

Best wishes for the new year,

The Student Government Association,

 Executive Committee and Student Senate,

Jamel Banks, President

Isaac Bauer, Vice-President

Katherine VanderKlock, Secretary

Mallory Ortmann, Assistant Secretary

Dylan Steensland, Chief of Staff

Mark Van Winkle, Marketer

Charissa Wood, Chief Justice

Chris McDowell and Jose Fuentes - Senior Senate

Steve Smrt - Junior Senator

Freja Holmstrom and Hannah Giel - Sophomore Senate

Daniela Mansour Chanel Metti- Freshman Senate