NYU Advises Student Not To Apply Because They Are Too Poor

CREDIT: Robert Mecea, AP

A student raises his fist as he and others are seen bracing against the cold on a balcony above a banner in the Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for University Life on the New York University campus in New York, Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. About 60 students staged a protest at NYU by talking over the Center on Wednesday evening, Feb. 18. Of those protesters, about two dozen remained on Friday morning. (AP Photo/Robert Mecea)

A New York University official’s response to an email from a senior at Brown University asking for a fee waiver has set off a firestorm on Twitter about low-income students’ access to higher education.

The Brown University student, Joshua Jackson, asked for a waiver of the $65 fee NYU charges for sending an application, and received a response from Dan Sandford, director of graduate admissions at Tisch School of the Arts, saying they could not receive a waiver, which Jackson subsquently posted on Twitter and wrote “please explain.”

Sandford first suggested that students who can’t afford the application fee shouldn’t apply and gives advice on how they should fund their education, writing, “Please do not take this the wrong way but if $65 is a hardship for you how will you be able to pay the tuition of $60,000? Of course we do provide scholarships but the most we usually offer is $15,000-$20,000. This still leaves a considerable gap. Maybe you should give yourself a year off looking at ways to fund your graduate education.”

Sandford then writes that the application fee is “quite low” compared to other schools and that the school can’t easily budget for fee waivers and adds that the department would have to absorb the loss. But the most noteworthy part of the email is when Sandford writes that he hopes the declined request won’t “dampen your resolve to apply,” despite his earlier suggestion that a student who can’t afford the fee should wait a year to attend graduate school.

NYU has since responded to the incident. Allyson Green, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, sent a statement to Inside Higher Ed, which read that “contrary to the information” Jackson received, the NYU Tisch School “does and will waive application fees for students in need” and announced they have waived Jackson’s fee.

Inside Higher Ed challenged the the university’s claim that it is being open with students about their access to waivers given that the university’s website echoes much of Sandford’s email, saying it can’t waive fees because the budget doesn’t cover those expenses.

Then NYU’s message gets increasingly complicated, because the Tisch School’s spokeswoman told the publication that multiple waivers are granted each year “only on request.” Finally, the Tisch School’s spokeswoman said the website would be updated to adopt a needs-based application fee.

Unfortunately, many other prestigious universities have more expensive application fees. Stanford University charges $90, Columbia University and Duke University charge $85 and many top-tier colleges, including Yale University, Dartmouth College and Boston University charge $80, according to a list of colleges ranked by U.S. News and World Report that charge the highest application fees. The most common application fee from all ranked colleges was $50.

As colleges such as NYU talk about budget limitations on paying for students’ application fees, college presidents and other administration officials are paid salaries that reach seven digits.

NYU President John Sexton made $1.5 million a year, took part in a university loan program that assists administrators with affording vacation homes in expensive locales, such as the Hamptons, and will receive a $2.5 million bonus. In addition, Sexton will also collect $800,000 annually in retirement. Andrew Hamilton will be the next president of NYU beginning in January of 2016. NYU would not tell the New York Times what his compensation will be.

Despite the attention paid to Sexton’s salary and expensive home, CEO-like compensation packages for university presidents are not limited to NYU. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey of university president salaries in 2013, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger made the top of the list for highest compensation at $4.6 million in compensation and University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann came in second at $3 million. The compensation of 32 presidents of private colleges were over $1 million in 2013.