On Tuesday, March 3, a dozen students rallied against the recent decision to increase the University’s cost of attendance. The protest, led by the Bucknell University Democratic Socialists (BUDS), took place during a faculty meeting in the Elaine Langone Center (ELC) Forum. While University President John Bravman was not in attendance — despite being on the agenda to speak — the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid were present during the demonstration.
University students, frustrated with the increase and wearing red in protest, gathered in the back of the ELC Forum at the start of the faculty meeting. They were greeted by significant applause from supportive faculty and administrative staff, many of whom were wearing red in solidarity with the demonstration. Recognizing the students, Faculty Chair Bill Kenny invited a representative of the group to speak before the council. Griffin Perrault ’22, President of BUDS, spoke for a few moments regarding the University’s policy and its adverse effects on low-income students, entreating the administration and Board of Trustees to provide a full accounting of the additional funds and their end-use. After Perrault’s speech, the group remained in the back of the forum for the rest of the meeting.
Earlier in the week, Vice President for Finance & Administration David Surgala announced the increase to the University’s comprehensive fee, which includes tuition, the student government fee and room and board. Approved by the Bucknell University Board of Trustees, the vote raised the total comprehensive fee for the 2020-21 academic year from $72,370 to $74,900, a 3.5% boost from last year. Such news reflects a general trend in comprehensive fee spikes, as the price was raised by 3.75% for the 2019-20 academic year, 3.9% for 2018-19 and 3.9% for 2017-18.
“I think the increase in fee is disgusting and unacceptable. Bucknell has one of the highest tuitions in the nation, which keeps so many bright and wonderful people from attending. If Bucknell really wants to be inclusive, then it can’t possibly justify this increase,” Nana Appiah-Padi ’20 said. “I attended the protest because I want students to see that we have a voice and it’s only through collective action and organizing that we can make the University stop crushing and exploiting us.”
In an email sent out to the parents and guardians of University students, Surgala defended the University’s decision. “At Bucknell, we are committed to providing you with the best possible undergraduate education — one that will enable you to explore your personal interests, and to set and achieve goals that build the foundation for personal and professional success. To strengthen that educational experience, we invest in excellent faculty and staff, as well as programs and places that distinguish Bucknell from peer institutions,” he said.
Associate Professor of Anthropology Michelle Johnson was among the faculty members wearing red in solidarity. “I was a first-generation college student who worked full time and it was hard. Receiving that email made me think of all of those students out there for whom it is difficult. I can’t even imagine being able to go to a school like this, one that’s $75,000,” she said. “I know there are a lot of students here whose parents are already stretching to afford Bucknell. My heart goes out to them and I want to support them.”
Other professors echoed these concerns. “I am deeply concerned about the increasing cost of higher education in general, not just at Bucknell. It is clear that the cost of tuition is making it increasingly difficult for people to attend college,” said Associate Professor of Anthropology Clare Sammells. I believe that Bucknell should do more to make it possible for students of all kinds to not only attend college, but thrive. That includes ensuring that they are fed, can purchase books, and are not in crippling amounts of debt when they graduate. I applaud the students who had the courage to say this directly to faculty and administration.
Many of the students were grateful for the support offered by these faculty members. “I think it’s important that we remember that faculty are on our side. They are overworked employees of the same heartless board and would make great allies in our struggle to make Bucknell a more hospitable university,” Appiah-Padi said.
Despite the frustration that accompanies the fee increase each year, the University maintains that they are receptive to the diverse needs of their student body. “As we allocate resources to continually enhance our offerings, we remain sensitive to your financial concerns. We regularly evaluate ways to constrain our operating costs, and we continue to identify avenues that will allow us to increase financial aid resources and expand access to a Bucknell education,” Surgala said. “In fact, the Plan for Bucknell 2025 includes commitments to limiting expense growth and expanding need-based financial aid.”