Tuition Equality Now (TEN), a graduate student coalition, released a petition urging Georgetown’s Board of Directors to reimburse graduate students for a further five percent of tuition for the spring and fall semesters. The petition, which pledges signatories to withhold all future donations to the university and participation in Georgetown alumni events, has 551 graduate student signatures, 30 alumni signatures, and eight staff signatures as of Feb. 9. Students, alumni, professors, staff, and unaffiliated supporters may add their names to the petition until Feb. 17.
TEN’s call for tuition equality follows other student calls for improved financial aid, as the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic expose many students to increased financial hardship.
The university announced it would be providing a ten percent tuition reduction to undergraduate students and a five percent tuition reduction to graduate students for the Fall 2020 semester in a campus-wide email on July 29, a decision TEN called inequitable for graduate students.
Nicole Dan (MPP’21), a student organizer, explained that TEN emerged in response to Georgetown’s announcement that it would be continuing its announced tuition reductions despite widespread outrage from graduate students.
In the fall of 2020, Georgetown University Graduate Student Government (GradGov) submitted a petition with over 1,500 signatures on Sept. 16 calling for Georgetown’s administration to reevaluate its tuition discount. The university responded to the petition by arguing that undergraduate students typically expect more value from the extracurricular aspects of student life.
“We granted a greater discount to undergraduate students largely because the residential experience, and the many activities that come with it, are ordinarily such a crucial component of a Georgetown undergraduate experience,” Provost Robert Groves wrote in the response email.
GradGov criticized the university’s response for ignoring the hardships graduate students have faced as a result of the pandemic and online instruction. In a statement responding to Groves’ email, GradGov argued that graduate students benefit from extracurricular events as well and said the university did not recognize the academic burdens graduate students have to shoulder in the transition to online instruction.
Despite graduate students often having unique financial needs, such as an increased likelihood of having to support a family, Georgetown has assumed that undergraduates have greater financial need, according to the TEN petition.
The petition argues that an additional five percent tuition reduction would help graduate students pay months of rent, utilities, student loans, medical bills, and other essentials, citing a survey TEN conducted of 100 graduate students.
All students often make large sacrifices to attend Georgetown, especially during the pandemic, Dan said. “Some graduate students are taking out over a hundred thousand dollars in loans. We’ve displayed a tremendous leap of faith by attending grad school,” she noted. “We have rent, we have bills to pay, and some grad students are also supporting a family.”
Georgetown announced it would be continuing the five percent tuition reduction for graduate students for the Spring 2021 semester on Nov. 16. GradGov and the School of Foreign Service later held town halls, where according to the petition, an “overwhelming majority” of students present objected to the continuation of the previous discount policy.
“While students shared frustrations over the exclusion of student voices in the decision-making process, blatant disregard for the significant limitations of the graduate student experience, and displacement of the university’s financial hardship onto students, university representatives offered empty and vaguely sympathetic platitudes,” the TEN petition reads.
The petition also notes that the university distributed significantly more Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to undergraduate students than graduate students. The Act allocated approximately $14 billion to colleges and universities nationwide, of which Georgetown received $6.1 million. Of this money, $3.055 million was allocated for student-related purposes, with Georgetown giving funding to 1,077 undergraduates and 392 graduate students. Undergraduate students also tended to receive larger grants.
TEN believes graduate students’ additional tuition reduction should not come at the expense of undergraduate student financial aid or faculty and staff salaries and wages, according to Dan. “We think that there’s a possibility for everyone to win here,” she said.
In addition to demanding reimbursement for an additional five percent of tuition, the petition calls on Georgetown to arrange a town hall with the university Board of Directors by Feb. 12 for students to share their experiences directly with administrators. It also requests that Georgetown consult with graduate students when making future decisions that directly affect them.
Dan emphasized the necessity of quick action on tuition reimbursement. “We’re in February, the semester ends in May. We don’t have that much time, and so I think that the tuition discount is the best way to compensate people,” she said. “A lot of us are hurting and do need the money, and it is a significant and life-changing amount.”