At rare student protests, Juilliard students rally against rising tuition fees

Students at Juilliard School danced and sang protest songs on the sidewalk outside their New York campus last week. From a distance it might have looked like an improvised street performance, but up close passers-by could read the requirements on the signs the students were holding.

“Actors and musicians are all demanding that you freeze tuition fees,” a panel said. “What is scandalous? Tuition fees are going up, ”said another.

Juilliard students were shocked recently to learn that tuition fees for their famous performing arts conservatory were increasing by nearly $ 2,000. When school leaders announced this spring that undergraduate tuition fees for the 2021-22 academic year would drop from $ 49,260 to $ 51,230, many students feared they might have to pay more and started asking. a tuition fee freeze.

“Students are really, really pushing for this cause that means a lot to them, especially during COVID, when $ 2,000 could mean two months of rent in New York or several months of groceries,” said Sarah Ma, a musician from first year. student at Juilliard.

Administrators responded to the protests by indicating a growing pool of financial aid dollars that will be available to students to offset the 4% tuition hike.

“Juilliard’s teaching, coaching and performance opportunities are unmatched, and great care is taken to provide this education at the lowest possible cost,” said a spokesperson for Julliard.

A rare student event

Protests and demonstrations over a number of issues thrive on many college and university campuses, which are often hotbeds of political and social activism.

The same is not true for Juilliard, Ma said.

“The arts have always been historically linked to protest. Art has always been inherently political, ”she said. “However, when you get to some very exclusive conservatory-level arts, like Juilliard and other art conservatories, it’s really rarely seen. Juilliard rarely saw a student organize for a request.

Ma remembers a few demonstrations on campus. One of the most notable protests on campus occurred long ago, in 1940, when students rallied around Howard Langford, a professor at Juilliard who was fired over salary and tenure issues, Rolling stone reported. Student and faculty activism also saved the dance department, which was in danger of being closed in the 1970s due to budget cuts.

Most recently, students organized in 2019 and succeeded in raising the minimum wage from $ 9 to $ 15 for all working students.

About a third of Juilliard’s students have signed a petition calling for a tuition fee freeze. A number of alumni and faculty members have expressed support for the students’ requests.

“Thank you to each of you for fighting to create conditions for more inclusive artistic productions. High tuition fees limit artistic creativity for you, as well as for those who come after you, ”Aaron Jaffe, assistant professor of philosophy and liberal arts, wrote in a statement of support for the students. The statement was posted on the Instagram account of the Socialist Penguins, the student group that organized the protests.

Juilliard administrators responded to student email inquiries in May, about a month after they began organizing against the tuition hike.

“We share your concern that the cost of tuition is a financial burden, especially for the most economically vulnerable students,” wrote Joan Warren, vice president of enrollment management, and Lesley Rosenthal, director of operations and general secretary, in an e-mail. at the Socialist Penguins on May 14. “While we recognize that the tuition increase from $ 1,965 to $ 51,230 for next year is prima facie bad news, we urge you to keep in mind that Juilliard is providing financial assistance to 92% of its students. . “

Juilliard officials have suggested that students concerned about rising tuition fees submit an appeal to increase their financial aid.

“Although student aid programs do not automatically increase over the course of four years of attendance, the school has set aside a reserve of funds for appeals commensurate with the increase in tuition fees to help students for whom rising costs are a test, “a spokesperson wrote in an email.

Student protesters were largely unhappy with Warren and Rosenthal’s response.

“If Vice President Joan Warren and the Juilliard administration truly shared student concerns about skyrocketing tuition fees, they would listen to the overwhelming demand from students and the community for a #tuitionfreeze,” the Socialist Penguins wrote on Instagram.

The student protests and the administration’s response created tensions.

The institution began investigating a handful of students for code of conduct violations following protest actions at a campus building on June 7, which were first reported by the Park Avenue Pianos Blog. Ma and other students’ access to the building was revoked following a student occupation.

“It feels like our needs are being ignored and instead we are being punished for expressing this discomfort with the administration,” Ma said.

The students then demonstrated outside.

Barrett Hipes, dean of student development, said in a June 10 email to all students that ongoing investigations into the students’ actions were not in response to their protest rallies.

“I want to be very clear that the investigations into these alleged violations of the code of conduct are just that. They are by no means a reaction to otherwise appropriate protests, ”Hipes wrote.

The strain on reducing tuition fees

The protests in Juilliard highlight a tension often brought on by strategies to cut tuition fees. Like most private institutions, Juilliard advertises high tuition prices and heavily subsidizes these prices for many students through institutional or federal financial assistance. More than nine in 10 Juilliard students receive some form of financial aid, whether it’s an institutional grant or scholarship, federal student loans, or a federal Pell grant for low-income students.

As tuition prices rise, so do the discount rates for private institutions. Over the past year, average tuition fee discount rates have reached a absolute record 53.9%, which means that for every $ 100 billed on paper, an institution does not collect $ 53.90 from students or families. Juilliard’s tuition discount rate is 66%, well above average.

About one in five Juilliard students benefit from tuition-free programs or full scholarships.

The actual net price to attend Juilliard varies depending on the income of the students and their families. In the 2019-20 school year, students with families earning between $ 0 and $ 30,000 per year paid an average of $ 24,474 to attend, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. About one in five Juilliard students fall into this category, according to a spokesperson for the school.

Students with families earning between $ 30,001 and $ 48,000 paid an average of $ 22,765, and students with family incomes between $ 48,001 and $ 75,000 paid $ 34,277.

Students with families in the highest income brackets have experienced the largest net price changes in recent years, according to NCES data. During the 2017-2018 school year, students with families earning between $ 75,001 and $ 110,000 paid an average of $ 26,764 per year. This average rose to $ 39,678 in 2019-2020. The same goes for students whose family earned $ 110,001 or more. These students paid an average of $ 38,696 during the 2017-2018 academic year and $ 49,356 during the 2019-2020 academic year.

The average net price among students in lower income brackets has fluctuated by several thousand dollars in recent years. Between 15 percent and 20 percent of Juilliard students are eligible for Pell scholarships each year. It is possible that Juilliard students from the lower income brackets will experience little or no change in their net price despite rising tuition fees. Students in higher income brackets who receive little or no financial assistance could see their bills increase by almost $ 2,000 next year.

Juilliard’s tuition hike exceeds average tuition hikes, said Bill Hall, founder and president of Applied Policy Research Inc., an enrollment and pricing consulting firm. Most independent colleges and universities increase their tuition fees by 3% for the next academic year.

Hall said elite colleges and universities like Juilliard are forced to increase their tuition fees over time for several reasons. The first reason is the prestige pricing.

“They’re not about to give up $ 50,000 because it’s the prestige marker,” Hall said. “The price of the sticker is the marker of the importance of education.”

The second reason is to track the costs of training.

“If you’re not going to raise tuition fees, you had better be prepared to make some more cuts to faculty positions,” Hall said. “You have to make money before you can spend money.”

Educating students at Juilliard costs around $ 90,000 per year per student, a spokesperson said.

Although Juilliard’s semester is over and many students have left campus for the summer, Ma said they are not giving up on their requests. Many alumni, faculty members and friends of the institution expressed their support for the student protesters.

“We disagree with this extremely prestigious and wealthy university. It’s a lot to deal with for a freshman,” she said. “We received so many messages of support. It was actually quite overwhelming.”

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