On Tuesday, April 23rd, Bates Students and families received an email from President Clayton Spencer concerning tuition for the upcoming 2019-2020 year. Bate’s single fee will total the large sum of 71,388 dollars, an increase of 2,370 dollars over last year’s total price. The tuition hike is not unique to this specific academic year. The 2019 Bates graduating class paid nearly 9,000 dollars less than the class of 2023 will pay for their first year. The rising cost of college is a phenomenon that has left no student or family unscathed, regardless of region or type of college.
Many Bates students have expressed concern over the college’s decision to raise the single fee. One student, William Hibbitts, ’21, took it upon himself to create a petition as a mechanism for students to express their displeasure with these new financial developments. He created the petition after one of his posts on the class of 2021 Facebook page picked up considerable attention. Hibbitts is not a stranger to activism, and was a part of Bates Student Action’s Affordable Education campaign in the past. “I understand that in order to coalesce support against this tuition increase, it’s crucial to bring people together. This petition is the start of that process,” says Hibbitts.
The Petition, addressed to President Spencer, the Board of Trustees, and the Administration, had amassed 283 student signatures as of the 27th. Hibbitts and the student signers are making several demands. The demands made in the petition are as follows: a cancellation of this tuition hike, a detailed account of how tuition money is spent, a tuition freeze where each class year would pay the same amount of tuition for all their time at Bates, and increased financial aid packages without loans. The main reason the petition cites for making these appeals is the financial burden rising tuition places on students and families. Additionally, the petition claims that the single fee hike threatens Bate’s economic, racial, and geographic diversity. Hibbitts says, “[Bate’s progressive reputation] is being damaged by moves like the tuition increase from the administration which will only serve to make a Bates education more exclusive and inaccessible.”
In a communication to be published as a letter to the editor in The Student, President Spencer responded to the solicitation and shed more light on the administration’s reasoning behind the decision. “I fully understand that the cost of college is a significant concern for students and their families, and I assure you that this concern is constantly front of mind for me, for the college leadership team, and for our Board of Trustees,” says Spencer. Spencer writes, “Bates maintains a very tight operating budget, and we work very hard to control the rate of annual increases in tuition and fees.” In terms of where the tuition money goes, the majority of the operating budget is sent toward recruiting and maintaining staff and faculty. Bates also spends 35 million dollars yearly on financial aid grants. The administration defends that they manage increases where they can, but, “Some fast-growing line items, such as health insurance premiums and pressures in the labor market, are beyond the college’s control,” says Spencer.
When asked if he thought the petition would be effective in procuring meaningful change Hibbitts responded, “Absolutely! Even if we don’t win all (or even any) of the demands listed in the petition, we have the ability to raise awareness of the skyrocketing cost of education at Bates and nationally.”
Hibbitts hopes to continue the fight for college affordability by organizing various events to speak out against the rising cost of a Bates higher education. “I firmly believe that education is a human right and not something to be bought and sold.”