GV faculty and students deliberate over college affordability and rising costs


GVL / Rachel Slomba

Clemence Daniere, Staff Writer

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Grand Valley State University’s Diversity Affairs Committee of the Student Senate held a virtual discussion focused on college affordability on Feb. 28. Students, staff and faculty came together to discuss the rising costs of college and learn about the factors impacting students’ tuition bills.

This event brought together students and faculty who share concerns about the affordability and accessibility of college. Students were encouraged to ask any questions that faculty could help answer, which led to discussion of solutions and help that are readily available for GVSU students. 

Professor Denise Goerisch, an asssistant professor of integrative, religious and intercultural studies, opened the virtual event by sharing stories from students she interviewed for her research on how the rising cost of college impacts students’ educational experiences. 

Goerisch’s fieldwork showed that students needing to balance a job while putting meaningful effort into their studies often leads to burnout and disengagement in the classroom. This produces advantages for students who don’t have to work or take out loans to pay for school and can focus more on their studies.  

Following Goerisch, professor Michelle Miller-Adams from the Political Science Department explored the subject of free and accessible college. GVSU tuition has been steadily rising for the past several years due to issues such as declining state support, rising administrative costs and rising amenity costs. Calls for cheaper and more accessible prices have accompanied these rises in tuition costs.

“This is a conversation that has been going on since the early days of the Obama administration,” Miller-Adams said. 

Declining state support was identified by faculty as one of the highest contributors to the rising cost of college. Currently, 17% of GVSU’s budget comes from the state, making it the second lowest-funded university in the state of Michigan. Joel Stillerman, professor of sociology and President of GVSU’s AAUP Chapter, added his concerns about the allocation and use of those funds and questioned whether the university should be investing more in the education of GVSU students instead of new buildings and amenities.

“Our main goal is to increase faculty and student input in university decisions so that we can be a better university that cares for the well-being of everyone in our community,” Stillerman said.

After faculty presentations, the event coordinators invited members of the Student Senate to give testimonies about their struggles with college affordability. Kyle Gineman, Vice President for Diversity Affairs, shared his experience with the exorbitant costs of his education and the successes and difficulties that led to where he is today. Student Larbi Al Moutaa also shared his experience with immigration and schooling and talked about his need to work overtime hours in order to afford his engineering degree. 

“It was encouraging to see faculty and students engaging in a dialogue about the rising cost of college and the student debt crisis that clearly demonstrates a sense of common concern, solidarity and a genuine interest in thinking through possible solutions to this challenge together,” said professor Brian Deyo, an associate professor in the English Department.

The AAUP was founded in 1915 to support academic freedom and uphold the standards and principles of higher education in the interest of democracy and the common good. The AAUP chapter at GVSU was formed in the fall 2020 semester by professors who were concerned about rising faculty workloads and the adverse consequences this may have for the quality of instruction at GVSU. Currently, AAUP consists of around 45 active faculty members who meet regularly to discuss university policies and current issues in higher education.

“AAUP formed in order to give faculty an independent voice to weigh in on matters of concern with respect to teaching and university policy,” Deyo said. 

The AAUP intends to host more events regarding affordability in higher education. Some members are still working on the subject of college affordability outside of the AAUP. Miller-Adams is hosting an event called “Should College be Free?” on Mar. 22 in the Pere Marquette Room in Kirkhof. More information about the event can be found on GVSU’s event page or by contacting Miller-Adams via email.