By: The Commentator Editorial Board  | 

Tuition Hikes Amid a Pandemic are Unacceptable. Nix Them Now.

As our nation and the world at-large continue to grapple with what is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Yeshiva University’s planned tuition hike for the upcoming academic year is nothing short of unconscionable. The planned, annual four-figure increase in tuition at a time when many families are struggling to put food on the table is out-of-touch and ought to be nixed.

As The Commentator previously reported, tuition and fees at YU have increased by nearly $6,000 over the past four years. For this upcoming year, tuition and fees are slated to increase by more than $1,500 — up to a whopping $46,475. That’s an increase of nearly 15% since the 2016-2017 academic year.

Meanwhile, many students have learned over recent weeks that most — if not all — of their courses for the fall semester will be given wholly online, while services and campus life will undoubtedly be diminished in comparison to previous years. It is absurd to demand students and their parents pay more for far less — especially during these trying and tumultuous times.

Indeed, most courses have been moved entirely online for the fall, and notwithstanding the university’s rhetoric of a “robust” fall semester, for the time being, there is little that separates YU from an inexpensive online college with the addition of recorded shiurim.

We understand that YU is hurting financially, as are a countless number of its students and alumni, as well as companies across the globe. COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on all of us, and notwithstanding projected federal aid, the university’s fiscal condition is nothing to brag about. 

However, rather than continuing to spend and ask for more from struggling students and their families, the university must take a hard look at its finances, make difficult decisions and slash unnecessary spending. Providing scholarships and launching fundraising campaigns are stopgaps, but they do not get anywhere near the root of the issue: a bloated bureaucracy that grows year after year with reckless spending and fiscal irresponsibility. 

A business-as-usual approach that continues to ask for thousands more in tuition each year may have worked in the past, but it is simply untenable under present circumstances, especially with much of the university’s attractive features — from campus life to in-person chavrusa study — being sidelined due to the pandemic. The student activities fees, which pales in comparison to the overall cost of tuition, is also bewildering given the current predicament.

This does not mean the end of YU — far from it. Rather, the university must adapt to the changing times and the reality of higher education during and after the pandemic. Asking for more while doing less simply will not work. Cutting costs and trimming excess bureaucratic fat will.

There is ample wasteful spending to trim, and doing so merely requires the university commit to putting its students above politics. Hefty administrator salaries, as evidenced in the university’s recent public tax filing, are a good place to start. While we commend President Berman and other members of the administration for taking voluntary salary reductions, far more must be done to put YU’s house back in order. Beyond that, limiting runaway spending on lobbying Albany, Washington and City Hall, ceasing the hiring of expensive consultants, abandoning expensive advertising practices, stopping the procurement of food and wines for administrators, and taking preventative steps to keep facilities safe and in compliance with code to prevent liability and massive fines are prudent measures as well.

If YU wishes to secure its future financial success, it must cater to the needs of its current students — the donors of tomorrow. The wellbeing of the students should be the prime consideration of the university. Providing students with a quality education in both secular studies and limudei kodesh, while ensuring students can secure good jobs and acceptance to graduate school after their time on campus, must be the university’s top priorities — nothing else. This attitude is imperative for the long-term success of any academic institution. 

It is clear that the spend-and-raise-tuition days are over, and more fiscally responsible practices must supersede the reckless spending habits of the past. The university’s future depends on it. 

As students, we care deeply about the continued vitality and health of the flagship university of Modern Orthodoxy in America. Over the past century, YU has provided an invaluable service to American Jewry. We want nothing more than to see its continued success for years to come. But that requires making the requisite, albeit tough, decisions to ensure YU returns to sound fiscal footing for years and decades to come.


Editor’s Note: For an article to be designated under the byline of “The Commentator Editorial Board,” a minimum of 75% of editorial board members, including the editor-in-chief, are required to give their assent.