Lehigh University announced a 3.75% tuition increase for the 2023-24 academic year. Students are expressing concern over Lehigh’s affordability and the way the increase was announced.
The undergraduate tuition is increasing from $58,970 to $61,180, not including room and board fees. The total cost of billable and non billable fees will increase from $79,415 to approximately $81,150, which has raised concerns over Lehigh’s affordability and financial aid.
Unlike last year, there was no email announcement to the student body about the tuition increase. Amy White, associate director of media relations, said in an email to The Brown and White the university issued a press release via Inside Lehigh, the parent newsletter and the Lehigh University Parents and Families Facebook group.
“We see these channels as primary vehicles through which Lehigh students, faculty, staff and families receive internal news about the university,” White wrote in the email. “We felt that this was the best way to make information about the increase and other relevant context available to all members of the Lehigh community.”
White wrote this is the third consecutive year Lehigh’s tuition increases have been below the national rate of inflation.
Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the continual increase in tuition is the result of many factors.
“In some cases, it’s new things the university is doing, new programs that are being created, new ways of supporting students,” Urban said. “In other cases, it’s really about the overall economy and inflation.”
He said tuition is the largest source of funding for the university. Yearly increases take into account projected costs for the next academic year, and the administration makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees, who make the final decision on any adjustments.
Urban said the biggest cost for the university are faculty and staff salaries.
“People are our biggest cost,” Urban said, “especially in the current job market. To get great people, you need to pay a competitive salary.”
Other private universities in Pennsylvania have also announced an increase in tuition for the 2023-2024 school year. Lafayette College’s tuition increased 5.5% and the University of Pennsylvania’s tuition increased by 4.4%.
More than half of Lehigh’s student body receives some form of financial aid, including sport scholarships, merit scholarships and need-based aid.
Jennifer Mertz, vice provost of financial services and director of financial aid, said the increase in tuition will impact financial aid.
“If the cost of attendance goes up, then the need goes up, so we do increase aid packages,” Mertz said.
To determine a student’s financial aid, Mertz said the financial aid office evaluates a student’s expected family contribution to pay tuition. This number is the amount Lehigh believes the family can pay based on a parent or guardian’s income.
Even as the cost of attendance increases, if a student’s financial situation remains the same, Mertz said they will not have to pay more than they already do.
“There are so many misconceptions out there about financial aid, and that is concerning to me,” Mertz said. “A counselor is always available to talk to a student about their particular individual situation.”
Lehigh’s financial aid evaluation system operates on delayed income, causing a two-year gap between any change in a student’s household income and when the university reviews the student’s application. Mertz said the financial aid office looked at 2020 taxes for 2022 aid packages.
Mertz said it is possible that a small percentage of students who had not previously received financial aid will now qualify with this tuition increase.
Aidan Kennish, ‘25, said he depends on financial aid to attend Lehigh. He didn’t know about the tuition increase until other students started talking about it.
Kennish said he was made aware of the 2022-23 tuition increase through an email sent by the university but didn’t receive one for the 2023-24 tuition increase.
Kennish said the news, “hits home harder than it might for other students who are paying out of pocket.”
“At least from a student perspective, I think about where my money is going a lot,” Kennish said. “It makes me wonder if my tuition is actually going toward what is being said.”
Casey Conboy, ‘25, said she also didn’t know about the new tuition increase because she was never notified by the university and thinks communication should improve.
She said she wants more discourse about why these decisions are made with students who are “actually going to be paying the bill.”
“We also have to pay for our own laundry, which is really an antiquated process that I feel like a lot students at other schools don’t have to do,” Conboy said. “And our tuition is still going up.”
Both Urban and Mertz said they heard few complaints about the tuition increase, but its true effects will likely not be visible until the fall of the 2023-24 school year.