As Lehigh’s tuition continues to increase, the administration must strategize a plan that meets the financial requirements of the growing university while still accommodating the financial needs of students.
This year’s 4.3 percent increase — which raises tuition from $50,320 to $52,480 and brings the approximate total cost of attendance to $66,730 — can largely be attributed to a rise in staff salaries and operating costs, said Patricia Johnson, the vice president of finance and administration.
“We have increased expenses each year and everything goes up, salaries being a big part of that,” Johnson said. “We pay for a lot of our faculty’s salaries from our endowment, but we need more gifts in order to bring that amount up, so we balance our operating budget against what our endowment spending is. As a university, certainly the people are the most expensive part.”
Johnson said the Office of Finance and Administration will use technology to try to keep tuition rates down, especially as the university increases the salaries of professors and faculty of higher merit and the student body increases.
“We’re looking at ways we can grow the student body without increasing the staff,” Johnson said. “The way we can do that is with more efficiency using electronic means, workflows, and having faculty that are very skilled and can produce a lot more work.”
With the increase in tuition for the upcoming year, the Office of Financial Aid must adjust aid packages to continue to meet 100 percent of undergraduate demonstrated need.
Jennifer Mertz, the director of the Office of Financial Aid, said Lehigh’s budget for financial aid is sufficient to cover the cost of attendance for need-based aid.
“We evaluate need every year, and it is based on an expected family contribution,” Mertz said. “So it doesn’t mean that every student’s aid package will go up exactly the amount that the price of tuition goes up, because the expected family contribution can change.”
Mertz said her hardest obstacle is having conversations with families struggling to pay the full cost of attendance. Although Lehigh’s need-analysis and packaging policies are committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need, Mertz said some families struggle because Lehigh does not have all the resources to provide exactly what everyone needs.
Kevin Ly, ’19, the founder of F1RST, a club for first-generation and working-class students, said the tuition increase is not easy for everyone.
“Financial aid does a really good job at meeting 100 percent of student need and my financial aid package is pretty consistent, even with the rise in tuition every year,” Ly said. “I think Lehigh is definitely worth the cost, but there are members of F1RST who have external factors, like having to financially support their families at home that take away from their Lehigh experience.”
Caroline Carlton, ’21, said Lehigh’s tuition has had a large impact on her family.
“(My family members’) lives have changed just for me to be able to go to college,” Carlton said. “But I do think that a college education is so important and not just with a career path, but also to help transition you into being an adult. Tuition costs are unreasonably high, though, and I think they’re definitely taking away opportunities for people who can’t afford it.”