Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney Reaffirms Support for Controversial Tuition Increase

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney reaffirmed support for a controversial tuition hike as the university plans to offer most courses online.

Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney reaffirmed her support for her administration’s decision to move forward with a controversial 3.1 percent tuition increase for this coming academic year, despite an uproar from parents and students. 

Next year, an education at Loyola will still cost $1,370 more than it did during the 2019-20 academic year, even though most classes are expected to be online, The Phoenix reported. That totals to a standard tuition rate of $45,500 and excludes housing costs, according to Loyola’s website

Rooney wouldn’t go into detail when asked by The Phoenix during a July 8 webinar what sorts of things she considered when deciding whether to adjust tuition rates for the 2020-21 academic year. 

She said: “Tuition is a complicated question. Our tuition for the fall is that that we published last spring and we are not anticipating a change to anything in our tuition.” 

Loyola’s decision to move forward with this coming year’s planned tuition increase ignited backlash on social media with students and parents expressing their frustration in the comments section of the university’s Instagram post announcing online class plans, complaining in student Facebook groups and creating petitions.

Senior Caleigh Judd said she understands it might not be possible for Loyola’s tuition to reflect the university being fully online since campus buildings still need to be maintained. But, the global and international studies major said the university should be more open about where the money from the tuition increase is going. 

“We at least deserve an answer as to why our tuition is increasing,” Judd, 22, said. “If they wanna break down the budgets and explain to us why tuition has increased every year, I think that’s where transparency would be important.” 

Loyola spokesperson Anna Rozenich told The Phoenix the university’s Board of Trustees decided in January the increase would enable Loyola to make necessary investments in salaries and benefits, educational programs, student health and wellness, academic support services, libraries, and research and technology infrastructure across campus. 

“The increase was intended to continue critical investments in strategic priorities, support meaningful financial aid to the greatest number of students and enable faculty and staff salary increases in an era of increasing competition to attract and retain the best talent and offer competitive benefits,” Rozenich said. 

Loyola is projecting a revenue decline of at least $50 million which could be significantly more should freshmen or returning students choose to withdraw or take a gap year, Rozenich said. About 70 percent of Loyola’s revenue comes from tuition, Rozenich said. The school’s largest expense, accounting for about 60 percent of Loyola’s operating budget, is its faculty and staff. 

“Our reliance on undergraduate tuition places us in a very different position from other schools,” Rozenich said. 

To reduce costs, Loyola administrators received pay cuts. Rooney lost 10 percent of her pay, deans lost 5 percent and “all other senior administrators” lost between 2.5-3 percent of their salaries, The Phoenix reported. The university has also issued hiring freezes and issued limited furloughs to save money, Rozenich said. 

Loyola senior Sylwia Balata said she thinks tuition should be lowered for online courses because she’s noticed “a significant difference” in the quality of her online classes compared to classes she previously took in-person at Loyola. The biology and Spanish major said students enrolled in online classes don’t have access to the same resources they would have in person such as in-class discussions.

“College is already pretty expensive but when you’re in person… you have those resources but if you’re online you’re definitely missing out on a huge aspect of it,” Balata, 21, said.  

Although the majority of classes are expected to be online, Rozenich said a Loyola education is still a “sound investment.”

“Tuition is competitively priced and remains the same regardless of the mode of instruction,” Rozenich said. “Loyola remains committed to providing a first-class education and will continue to provide students with access to the same accomplished faculty, rigorous coursework and thoughtful curriculum that are the hallmark of the Loyola experience.”

Loyola sophomore Jeanpierre Lem created an online petition about a month ago calling for Loyola to lower its tuition for the 2020-21 school year. It’s gained over 3,300 signatures by the time of publication. 

Lem, a 19-year-old majoring in entrepreneurship, said he created the petition because he knew lots of students might be suffering from economic hardships as a result of the pandemic. He said his own family was set back financially after his mother had to stop working due to safety concerns.

“I really did think Loyola needed to reduce its tuition regardless of how in-person or online it’s going to be, just because besides me I know there are hundreds or thousands of students who have suffered from losing their jobs on-campus or even off-campus with everything going on,” Lem said. 

Rozenich said Loyola understands the “significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many families.” The university is allocating $10 million of university funds and an additional $5 million from philanthropy towards the newly established Loyola Commitment program. This program was designed to support Loyola students whose families have experienced a significant reduction in income, The Phoenix reported

“We do not yet know if $15 million will be enough but we are committed to supporting all of our students who have financial needs,” Rozenich said. 

Junior Lauren Mendoza agreed Loyola should lower tuition due to the financial impact the pandemic has had on people and also said she noticed a difference in quality in her online classes. But, she said she also worries the tuition increase could especially impact people of color who have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.

“Loyola is already a predominantly white institution and this is just making education less accessible,” Mendoza, a 20-year-old studying social work and sociology, said. 

Loyola’s Jesuit values are what made Mendoza fall in love with the school, she said. To her, lowering tuition is part of “cura personalis” or caring for the whole person, which is one of the values promoted on the university’s website

“Loyola continues to promote its values about how much they care for the students but they need to show it in their actions,” Mendoza said. “Thinking about students’ financial situations is part of caring for the whole person.” 

“Taking care of our campus community is an integral part and focus of our Jesuit mission and ideals,” Rozenich said. “In 2019-2020 academic year, Loyola awarded more than $230 million in financial aid.”

As universities across the country continue to announce plans for the fall, some — including nearby DePaul University — have canceled their tuition increases for the upcoming year, according to DePaul’s website. Northwestern University kept its 3.5 percent tuition increase, bringing its 2020-21 tuition to $58,227 from the current year’s $56,232, according to its website

Other Jesuit schools — such as Marquette University in Milwaukee, Fordham University in New York City and Regis University in Denver — have decided to keep their tuition increases for the 2020-21 academic year, according to the schools’ websites. 

While Loyola hasn’t adjusted its tuition costs since the start of the pandemic, the school is offering discounted room and board rates to reflect students’ shortened stay on campus since Loyola plans to send students home for the semester Nov. 22, according to Loyola’s website

Loyola also eliminated its $419 student development fee although the services it pays for — such as the Wellness Center, intercampus shuttle buses and 8-ride — will continue and in some cases expand, Rozenich said. 

Despite promising to limit tuition increases during her 2016 inaugural speech, Rooney has raised tuition each academic year she’s been in office and repeatedly refused to speak about it, The Phoenix reported. 

When the tuition increase was first announced in January, a university spokesperson said Rooney was “unavailable” after The Phoenix asked for an interview to discuss it, The Phoenix reported. When a June 26 email announced tuition rates for the fall would still increase, Rooney didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

In the past, Rooney and her administration haven’t answered questions from The Phoenix on topics including new federal Title IX regulations, a class action complaint filed against Loyola by a parent demanding partial tuition funds and the university’s original plans for a hybrid instruction model, among other topics. 

The university’s Emergency Response Management plan has a communications framework “to transparently and frequently communicate decisions and engage all stakeholders across the university community,” Rozenich said. This framework includes the email box. 

“Under [Rooney’s] leadership, she has ensured that every email or call to our university has been addressed and to date more than 3,400 emails have been answered as it relates to university decisions,” Rozenich said. 

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