News and Analysis



This post was written by assistant news editors Ellie Smith and Ryan Lasker.

After a group of faculty and staff found that GW’s employee benefits are not competitive with those at peer universities, officials announced they would only adapt one of the committee’s recommendations.

The benefits task force recommended in a report last month that the University absorb any rise in health insurance premiums above the 3 percent employee pay raise, restore tuition benefits to 2014 levels and expand health care funding to align with inflation. Administrators agreed to keep the premiums at about 3 percent but will maintain tuition benefits at current levels, University President Steven Knapp announced during a meeting of the benefits advisory committee earlier this month, according to a University release.

Knapp created the group following an uproar from faculty members after officials announced last September that GW would roll back its tuition benefits this January, saving the University about $750,000. Those savings would help limit how much out-of-pocket health care costs rose last year.

“We are committed to acting on the task force’s main short-term recommendation, to keep the premium increase at or close to an average of 3 percent for employees,” Knapp said in the release. “Above all, we want our plans to be competitive so that we can attract and retain the best possible faculty and staff.”

Andrew Zimmerman, the president of the Faculty Association and a history and international affairs professor, said it was a “relief” that the task force recognized that benefits for GW employees don’t measure up to other university’s benefits.

“For the most part, everyone in the top administration was denying what we were able to show with our figures,” he said.

But while the University is tackling health care premiums for employees, administrators are not addressing two other aspects of the task force’s short-term focuses — tuition benefits and retirement benefits.

Zimmerman said that what was most “striking” about Knapp’s response “is how much of his own at the report of his own task force he chose to ignore.”

The group also proposed measures like capping maximum salary increases, freezing discretionary bonuses and forgoing supplemental University retirement contributions to the highest-paid employees in order to make the recommendations they set out possible. Members of the group, which included six staff members had six faculty, had a May 1 deadline to evaluate short term issues, including tuition benefits, retirement plans and health care, and will continue to work on longer term goals about the overall compensation of faculty and staff through December.

Joseph Cordes, an economics professor and a member of the benefits task force, said health care benefits are more straightforward to analyze and will be harder to change, as health costs continue to rise nationwide.

“The biggest issue is still the question of what to do with the situation of health care costs, because in all likelihood they are increasing more rapidly than merit pay increases,” Cordes said.

Merit pay, which includes salaries and wages, are generally rising at about 3 percent while health care costs are rising at a rate of up to 8 percent, Cordes said.

Members of the Staff Association said last month that while they agree with other proposals by the task force, they should also include tuition reimbursements for employees enrolled in degree programs prior to Jan. 1 who were affected by the change in tuition benefits earlier this year.

The group of staffers also sent out a newsletter following the release and said that they find the decision to reduce tuition benefits for staffers is a “cynical disregard for GW’s own recent commitment to shared governance.”

Robin Kuprewicz, a department operations supervisor for the University and a member of the Staff Association, said in an email that the group plans to have a town hall with administrators next month to clarify the decision to roll back those benefits.

“As of now, the administration has not yet formally communicated the decision on grandfathering to staff who were impacted and we have heard reports that some offices are advising staff that they will be grandfathered,” she said.

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Want the biggest bang for your buck? You might find it at the GW School of Business.

The business school landed the No. 20 spot on a list of 25 business schools with the highest return on investment, published by Fortune Magazine earlier this week. Twenty five business schools across the country made the list, with the University of California, Berkeley, clinching the top spot.

The return on investment was calculated by estimating how much the average graduate would earn over 20 years and subtracting the amount of tuition that student would pay while earning the degree. The magazine estimated that a GW business school graduate student will earn $609,800 more than a high school graduate would over 20 years, but only after paying about $63,000 in tuition every year for four years.

But, GW’s tuition was the fourth-highest on the list. Nine of the universities listed have tuition levels that are about half the amount as GW.

New York University, one of GW’s peer schools, ranked seventh on the list, with a return on investment of $693,700 – an amount nearly $84,000 higher than GW. Other peer schools included Washington University in St. Louis and American University, which landed the 22nd and 24th spots, respectively.

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Nearly 800 people have signed a petition asking the University to restore funding to the music department, as well as the theater and dance department.

The petition gathered 793 signatures as of Thursday morning, nearly a week after students learned about how course offerings for next semester would be affected by University-wide budget cuts.

One-on-one instrumental lessons will be reserved for majors and minors only and the department will decrease from two bands and two choruses to one of each.

Professors have said that the cuts could shrink the department by at least 40 percent and that they could make it difficult for the department to attract the most-talented students.

The petition states that the cuts will also affect the music department’s collaboration with other arts departments, like the theater and dance department. Courses that aren’t required for theater and dance major or minors are being cut, it says.

All academic departments and administrative divisions around the University have been asked to cut their budgets for next year by about 5 percent to make up for overspending and revenue from tuition falling below projections.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014 2:58 p.m.

Advocacy group moves to block Corcoran deal

GW has committed $25 million to renovate the Corcoran's aging building on 17th Street. | Hatchet file photo by Hatchet Staff Photographer Zach Montellaro.

Save the Corcoran, a group of curators, artists, professors and alumni, has called the Corcoran’s deal with GW and the National Gallery of Art “surrender and abdication.” File Photo by Hatchet Staff Photographer Zach Montellaro.

If an advocacy group has its way, the merger between GW and one of D.C.’s oldest art institutions will not happen after all.

Save the Corcoran filed a motion in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday to prevent the dissolution of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of Art + Design’s nonprofit charter, which is a necessary step for the deal to move forward. The group is made up of arts advocates, curators, artists, Corcoran professors and several alumni.

In June, Corcoran trustees filed a petition to revise the Corcoran’s federal charter, which requires court approval, and propel the merger forward. The move would turn over the Corcoran’s buildings, artwork and college to GW and the National Gallery of Art.

Although a hearing on the issue isn’t until July 18, members of Save the Corcoran are already calling the move “surrender and abdication,” according to the complaint. They are also calling on the Corcoran to provide a financial audit, appoint a committee to review the deal with GW, order all art to remain in D.C. and reject the agreement if evidence emerges that mismanagement caused the Corcoran’s downfall.

For years the organization has slammed Corcoran officials for botching the institution’s finances.

“It is now evident that the Board of Trustees has stopped believing that the Corcoran can or should remain a vibrant, independent institution,” the complaint reads. “In the last several years alone, the Board has engaged in a bewildering, mystifying series of steps that violate its trust obligations and charter and cast its judgment into serious question.”

The complaint also claims that the merger will harm Corcoran alumni who may miss out on job opportunities if their degree loses value after the college joins GW.

Last month, GW administrators announced that the University’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences would envelop the 550-student design college, which could mean that arts students will pay full GW tuition in the future.

John Cavanaugh, the president and chief executive officer of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area – comprising 13 schools – wrote a letter to the D.C. assistant attorney general Wednesday supporting the Corcoran’s union with GW and calling it a partnership that represents the “best possible outcome.”

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University President Steven Knapp at an event for the Confucius Institute in the fall. Erica Christian | Photo Editor

University President Steven Knapp at an event for the Confucius Institute in the fall. Erica Christian | Photo Editor

University President Steven Knapp will join about 140 higher education leaders at a White House summit Thursday to unveil new commitments to help low-income students attend and finish college.

The day-long event comes as President Barack Obama promotes plans to make college less expensive and easier to complete for low-income students. The University announced this afternoon that it will release its own affordability plans Thursday morning, along with dozens of other colleges that are on the closely-guarded guest list.

The White House has pitched several ideas to colleges already, encouraging them to set goals for increasing the number of Pell Grant-eligible students, create cohorts specifically for low-income students and improve science and engineering learning outcomes among low-income students.

Knapp has said he’s committed to lower college costs throughout his six-year tenure, increasing the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants from 9 percent to 14 percent over the last four years.

But GW has its own mixed record on college affordability. Its 2010-2011 sticker price tuition ($44,148) was the fourth-highest in the country, according to this year’s Department of Education report. But its net price ($27,793), which includes how much it gives out in financial aid, was lower than most of its competitors and other D.C. area schools.

Its average student debt (about $33,000) is higher than the national average. Only about 1.5 percent of students default on those loans though, which beats the national rate by a wide margin.

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GW now admits that it factors in financial need before sending out all acceptance letters – erasing the “need-blind” label it trumpeted for years.

But look back a little farther, and you’ll see the University has a long history struggling to sell itself and its price tag. Here’s a look back at some of the important background to GW’s admissions process and pricing strategy.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was University president for 19 years, presided over huge increases in tuition. Hatchet File Photo

Under former president, a surge in tuition
GW, led by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, came under scrutiny in 2007 when it became the first university to charge more than $50,000 for cost of attendance.

Students pointed to small spending sprees on laser light shows at Colonial Inauguration and GW’s double-decker bus that drove through campus for admissions tours as signs of excess.

Tuition and cost of attendance quickly surged from $25,000 in 1987 to $51,000 in 2007 (accounting for inflation).

Trachtenberg also told The Atlantic last year that most students wouldn’t mind high tuition because “people equate price with the value of their education” – comparing universities with vodka brands that price themselves higher to create the illusion of quality.

Administrators like Trachtenberg also justified the rise in price by pointing to the fact that GW relies heavily on tuition to fund programs. (GW’s other sources of income, like fundraising and endowment, are smaller that a lot of other top private schools.) He argued that higher tuition could then pay for better professors and facilities to help improve the University.

Trachtenberg retired in 2007 after 19 years of stretching GW’s campus footprint, increasing selectivity and strengthening its endowment.

University President Steven Knapp, right, took over in GW in 2007 just as its price tag crossed the $50,000 threshold. Hatchet File Photo

University President Steven Knapp, right, took over in GW in 2007 just as its price tag crossed the $50,000 threshold. Hatchet File Photo

Trying to contain the damage
With that price tag also came a reputation of being a “rich-kid school,” which has still lingered despite efforts to tackle affordability.

GW instituted a fixed-tuition program in 2004 that locks undergraduates into one price until they get their degree. Administrators point to this policy the most when defending GW’s high tuition and cost of attendance.

The University also rolled back merit aid in favor of more need-based scholarships in 2007. Since then, GW has touted that about 60 percent of students receive grant aid and is prioritizing financial aid as a key part of its upcoming fundraising campaign, expected to total at least $1 billion.

Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper announced she will "retire" last December – a month after GW has faced scrutiny following the announcement that the admissions office had been inflating data for more than a decade. Hatchet File Photo

Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper announced she will “retire” last December – a month after GW has faced scrutiny following the announcement that the admissions office had been inflating data for more than a decade. Hatchet File Photo

A history of admissions dishonesty
But some of those cost-containing efforts during University President Steven Knapp’s tenure have come in the backdrop of controversies in the admissions office.

GW admitted last fall that it inflated admissions data to U.S. News & World Report, which booted GW off its coveted rankings.

Admissions officers had counted the top-credentialed incoming freshmen as being in the top 10 percent of their high school class, even if the high school didn’t report class rank. Kathryn Napper, former head of admissions, stepped down a month after that news broke and her former office was stripped of record-keeping power.

GW chose not to replace her position, as it was already planning to hire a new administrator, Laurie Koehler, to lead both the admissions and financial aid offices. Koehler, who took over this summer, was the first administrator to talk about the need-aware policy.

Napper had for years repeated in interviews that GW is need-blind, meaning it does not factor financial need into admissions decisions.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter McKinley Kant.

Graduate students will pay as much as 10.5 percent more in tuition dollars next year as programs across the University raise rates to fund salaries and aid.

The increases are set to bring in an additional $10 million in revenue, of which several million will support graduate aid, which is most merit-based, administrators said this month. The overall hikes were approved by the Board of Trustees in February, but specific programs set individual rates throughout the semester.

Tuition in the Elliott School of International Affairs’ master’s program will rise 7.5 percent next year. Hatchet File Photo

While administrators insist the University has maintained historically low graduate tuition rates, many of GW’s tuition hikes approved this year top the national average increase of about 4 percent the last two years.

Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Planning Forrest Maltzman said the increases will allow GW to funnel more tuition dollars into aid, helping recruit better graduate students. Unlike undergraduates, graduate students do not have a fixed-tuition plan.

“I would hope that having a healthy amount of graduate aid is important to bring in the best students,” said Maltzman. “In most instances, GW’s graduate tuition tends to be lower than its peers and is significantly lower than our undergraduate tuition. Over time, the University is interested in closing these gaps and investing much of this in aid and in our academic programs.”

The steepest increases will hit off-campus programs like the Arlington-based graduate statistics program, which is made up almost entirely or Chinese students. That tuition jumped 10.5 percent to $1,400 per credit – or to nearly $34,000 for the 24-credit master’s degree.

Master’s students in the Elliott School of International Affairs will owe $29,620 for next academic year after a 7.5 percent tuition increase. But the Elliott School remains the cheaper option for a master’s degree in international affairs compared to Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, which cost almost $15,000 and $11,000 less per year, respectively.

The GW Law School will see tuition rise 3.9 percent, which will keep tuition about $6,000 cheaper than Northwestern University’s legal program, though GW remains one of the most expensive law schools in the country.

The School of Medicine and Health Science’s 3.5 percent tuition bump makes the University slightly more expensive than Northwestern University’s medical school. The college has been one of most expensive to not break into U.S. News & World Report’s top-50 for research.

The School of Nursing, which saw a 10 percent increase last year, will raise tuition for graduate programs by 6.9 percent.

Maltzman said the University increased aid packages for graduate students so most would not have to pay more because of the tuition hikes. GW School of Business graduate students called out the college last year for failing to warn them about increases.

“We are sensitive to the price increases,” Maltzman said, “and one of the things we did do is look at everyone who had aid and we adjusted aid packages to make sure the awards they had enough to cover the new tuition.”

The tuition increases will also fund salaries and rapidly increasing health benefits, University spokeswoman Jill Sankey said.

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University President Steven Knapp sat in a Faculty Senate meeting Friday. He said in an interview after that he thought the story failed to note the public service achievements of GW students. Cameron Lancaster | Hatchet Staff Photographer

University President Steven Knapp criticized the Washington Post story that painted a damning picture of GW students’ lavish lifestyles, calling the piece “a very distorted characterization of our students.”

Knapp said in an interview Friday afternoon that the 2,350-word story failed to note GW students’ public service achievements. He pointed to the high number of graduates who enter the Peace Corps and Teach for America as evidence of their larger ambitions.

“Students come here not to party but because they want to change the world,” he said.

The story, published online Thursday and slated for the Post’s Sunday magazine, highlighted the efforts of the Knapp administration to curb tuition growth and cut costs, in part to rollback the University’s pricey reputation.

But the story was also anchored in anecdotes of $1,000 bottle services, expensive cars and class division on campus. It has garnered nearly 170 online comments and lit up social media, as GW students mostly railed against the story.

Knapp, who spoke to Post reporter Annie Gowen for the story, said Friday that he thought it was unbalanced.

“We don’t simply draw students from the upper echelons of society,” Knapp said. “Almost two-thirds of students are on some form of financial aid. That was mentioned in the article but it didn’t appear to me that the reporter actually sought out students who are representative from the other communities from which we draw.”

The story also mentioned former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was dubbed the “high priest of runaway college inflation” by The Atlantic last fall. Trachtenberg helped quadruple the University’s endowment and make GW twice as selective, but also doubled the sticker price of tuition during his 19-year tenure until it became the most expensive university in the country in 2007.

The Post story noted that the growth had the unintended consequence of carving out a class divide at GW.

Trachtenberg said in a phone interview Friday that he raised the sticker price to improve the University and create a pool of tuition funds that could subsidize financial aid for other students. But, he said, he thought the story was “entertaining.”

“I read these articles and I think, ‘Why should I be embarrassed the school got better and why should I be embarrassed we have rich students?’” he said. “That kids live robust undergraduate social lives, I believe that. I was 18.”


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Hatchet File Photo

GW is flooded with party-loving rich kids who perpetuate a class divide on campus, and the University is trying to stave off that reputation. That’s the subject of a 2,350-word Washington Post story Thursday.

The piece delves into the rising costs of higher education and how GW has been dogged by its spot as the highest-priced university in the country six years ago. And thus, there are tales of clubs, vomiting and pricey bottle services – as students who can afford that tuition bill look to make Foggy Bottom their urban playground.

Here are some highlights.

The two-year-old luxury apartment complex The Avenue is the backdrop of one part of the story:

One recent gray afternoon, the tables at the outdoor cafes [outside the Avenue] were full, and at the Whole Foods, dozens of GW students lined up to purchase sushi and other fare with their GWorld ID cards. Students lounged on the rooftop deck at the Residences on the Avenue, a luxury apartment building with some of the highest rents in the city.

When the Avenue opened two years ago, its management company had hoped to market the place — with a marble lobby, concierge and sweeping views of the Washington Monument and Potomac River — to young professionals, even instituting quiet hours to discourage students.

They were banking on parents being unlikely to pony up an average $3,900-a-month rent for their kid’s college living quarters. They were wrong. The management company won’t say how many residents are college students, but residents say dozens live in the 300 or so apartments. Reviewers on Yelp complain about parties and noise.

By last spring, “it was becoming dormy,” said Katie Ross, 22, a journalism major and the daughter of two New York lawyers who “loves” her studio apartment and her school. “One night there was vomit in the elevator.”

And University President Steven Knapp spoke with a Post reporter, discussing how he has worked to keep tuition prices down, added more financial aid and pushed to become a premier research university since he took the helm in 2007:

Knapp said he wanted to focus on the affordability of GW “from the day I arrived. We had gotten a reputation as being an expensive school.” He formed an innovation task force that has identified in $50 million in savings. And the university has tried to keep tuition increases around the level of inflation for the past six years.

This year freshmen paid $56,660 for tuition, room and board and fees, roughly equal that of Georgetown University ($56,682) and only slightly above the $53,455 of American University. (At GW, freshmen pay a fixed-price tuition that stays the same throughout their tenure.)

“We’re really making an effort here to make tuition more affordable,” Knapp said.

But, of course, tuition prices still linger near the top. And the Post dived into the party scene one night at the 19th Street club Cities:

Nicollette Slotkin, a freshman from Beverly Hills, is waiting in line wearing a black mini-dress and diamond Chanel necklace and toting a Chanel bag. She’s a self-described “West Coast princess” who came east to George Washington for the chic urban campus and the well-regarded business school.

Her roommate, Regan Nelson, an ethereal belle from New Orleans, has already made it inside the club. Finally, Slotkin makes her way past the first doorman. She’s in!

“It’s so much fun!” she says, her face wreathed in a smile.

Near the dance floor, two groups of students are in a bottle war — each side vying to drink the most bottles of $160 Veuve Clicquot champagne. Kids are hanging on the rafters. The DJ queues up a song by the band fun.: “Tonight we are young. So let’s set the world on fire. …”


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The GW School of Business, housed in Duques Hall, raised tuition 4.4 percent for returning students this year, slightly higher than last year’s increase. Students say they were kept in the dark about the increase. Jordan Emont | Assistant Photo Editor

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Aliya Karim.

Business school graduate students are disputing the $1,000 added to their tuition bills this fall, claiming the extra charge came without notice.

An additional $55 per-credit-hour fee was not included in a cost estimate handed out by the Global MBA Program last spring. The estimate, which brought tuition for the two-year program up to $123,085, pronounced the costs “subject to change,” but several students said they were unaware such a change had actually been made.

The Board of Trustees announced the tuition hike in February, but because the 4.4 percent increase is “within the range of the annual increase, [students] learn the rates through the university offices,” Dean Doug Guthrie said in an email.

The increase is also consistent with rates raised by many other business schools across the country. Last year, the business school raised tuition 3.5 percent for returning students.

Shashwat Gautam, a second-year MBA student who mortgages his home in India from the U.S., said he first found out about the increase when his tuition bill was emailed to students this month. He said the extra $1,100 he will owe the school this year will strain his already tight budget, because he applied for student loans using the previous tuition estimate.

“For middle class families from India and different parts of the world, it’s going to mean a lot,” said Gautam, the business school’s graduate representative for the Student Association. “We could’ve planned it better if we had an idea of it.”

Gautam, also the vice chair of SA’s academic affairs committee, said he is pushing the SA to lobby administrators to roll back the costs.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said tuition information is posted on both the University’s graduate enrollment and Colonial Central websites, but that details are not emailed to students because costs differ based on course load. “In addition, students applying for financial aid should be aware of tuition information well in advance,” she said in an email.

Associate Dean for MBA Programs Liesl Riddle sent an email to business graduate students addressing “tuition confusion and clarification” following The Hatchet’s inquiry into the school’s tuition bump.

She said in the email that the 4.4 percent increase falls within the standard practice of a 4 to 6 percent rise between a student’s first and second year, and maintained that the added tuition revenue would go toward expanding programming.

“Admissions sent you an estimated cost of attendance for the entire program when you enrolled and noted that second year tuition was an estimate that would likely change. In addition, the university posts the new rates in late spring for your review,” Riddle wrote.

Allan Simonds, a second-year MBA student, called the email “defensive and condescending,” and said it still did not clarify how the school would use the extra tuition money. “The email really pits the administration against the student body,” Simonds said.

The 4.4 percent increase is “not out of sync with general increases that we’re seeing in North America,” said Dan LeClair, the chief operating officer of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. He said schools might increase tuition for course and curriculum improvement, global expansions, student engagement in the classroom and improved reputations.

Guthrie said in an email that the MBA tuition remained far below neighboring Georgetown University and University of Maryland, and a small increase in tuition would help pay for more student aid and programs, but did not specify which.

“If we want to have programs and student services that compare to those schools, we need also to have the resources that make us competitive,” Guthrie said.

Incoming MBA students will also face a 8.7 percent higher tuition than last year’s students, the steepest climb in an across-the-board tuition increase for graduate programs. New doctoral students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and Graduate School of Education and Human Development and masters students in the Elliott School of International Affairs will see an 8.5 percent increase in tuition.

In addition to the extra tuition revenue, the business school is also receiving $9.4 million in cash from GW through 2014 – the largest investment in the history of the school.

Business school administrators have been busy both in D.C. and China in the past year, linking MBA students in planning the District’s economic development plan and opening up master’s programs in Suzhou. The business school also added four online graduate programs this summer.

“I do think and hope the extra money will go to benefit students and the school, and especially to increase our rankings,” Neha Shah, a second-year MBA student, said. “I also don’t realistically expect that I will personally get to enjoy these benefits in my last year as a student.”

The business school’s graduate program fell five spots to No. 57 in the U.S. News and World Report ranking in March.

Business students have soured on administrators’ communication effectiveness in the past. In Bloomberg Businessweek’s survey of undergraduate business students, many at GW cited issues of communication for administrators as one of the school’s problems.

“There are bright spots, but they have a long way to go,” Simonds said. “They should begin with better communication, more transparency and less squandering of money.”

- Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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