Middle-class students express concerns as Northwestern increases its cost of attendance

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Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

As Northwestern tuition rises, students are concerned about affording the cost of attendance.

Skye Garcia, Reporter

After spending hours a night working on his engineering homework, McCormick junior Tyler Nanoff said the last thing he wants to do is get a job. 

But as Northwestern increases its tuition, Nanoff may have to take one on to pay off daily expenditures. The cost to attend NU — which includes tuition, room and board, books and supplies, health care and fees — increased by almost $3,000 this academic year. NU’s cost of attendance now totals just over $87,000 per year. 

“Part of me understands it because everything is increasing with inflation,” Nanoff said. “But another part of me is pretty irritated just because NU is already one of the most expensive schools in the country.”

The University’s tuition and fees have risen by about 2 to 4% almost every year since the 2011-12 academic year. The 2019-20 academic year was the only exception, with tuition increasing more than 5%. 

Nanoff said maintaining a job, his academic career and social life is “definitely doable,” but he questioned why the University would burden students with additional stress. 

“Increasing the financial burden on students definitely isn’t going to solve (mental health issues), especially when we don’t have much resources going to psychological services on campus,” Nanoff said.

In an effort to compromise, Nanoff said he would like to see his money put to good use when tuition increases. Nanoff suggested shifting resources to Counseling and Psychological Services  to better support students’ mental health needs and crises.

SESP sophomore Isabella Garcia said she is concerned about her financial aid package for the next academic year. 

“It feels like for a lot of people, including me, NU is not meeting our needs and we still have all this anxiety about paying our tuition,” Isabella Garcia said. 

Isabella Garcia said the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid can be frustrating to work with. 

When her sister was enrolled in NU last year, Isabella Garcia received a better financial aid package and a work-study allotment. This year, she received less aid and no work-study allotment. She doesn’t understand the changes to her package. 

The expected family contribution — a measurement used by universities to determine how much money a student or student’s family can afford to pay in tuition — does not take into account that some students themselves are paying for their own education, Isabella Garcia said. 

Because she is considered a dependent, Isabella Garcia’s expected family contribution was calculated using her parents’ salaries. While her parents offer some financial support, she pays her own tuition.   

“I wish it was easier to appeal and try to explain your extenuating circumstances,” Isabella Garcia said. “They just assume that your parents are going to have all this money to put towards your tuition, when that might not be the reality.”

Isabella Garcia said it’s difficult to reach out to the financial aid office to discuss her concerns. She said the office’s response time is fairly slow and she often leaves with more questions than answers. 

“They’re supposed to be helpful, but sometimes you leave more confused and it’s like, okay, maybe I’m just better off trying to navigate this on my own,” Isabella Garcia said.

NU reported a 31% increase in financial aid since the academic year 2017-18, University spokesperson Erin Karter said. 

A lot of this aid is meant to benefit low-income students. However, students who identify as middle-class do not qualify for low-income financial aid opportunities and may not be able to pay full tuition costs. This makes it difficult for middle-class families to enroll their children in private universities like NU. 

Weinberg sophomore Jacob Garcia said he may not be impacted by NU’s tuition increase despite identifying as a middle-class student. 

Jacob Garcia receives educational assistance from the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, informally known as the G.I. Bill, which awards grants to the dependents, surviving partners and children of veterans to further their education. His father served in the military for more than a year in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If we didn’t have the G.I. Bill, I don’t think I would have gone to NU,” he said. “I probably would’ve had to take a $20,000, $25,000 loan per year.”

For some, NU’s tuition increase revealed the University’s lack of empathy. Isabella Garcia said she believes the University does not listen to the needs of its students.

“I don’t think they take into account student’s opinions,” Isabella Garcia said. “They just look at the numbers.”

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