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Credit: Chase Sutton

The School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania declares its vision statement to be, “the passionate pursuit of social innovation, impact, and justice.” However, SP2 does not expand that same vision of social impact and justice to the financial well-being of its student body. 

While announcing all but 7 fall semester courses would be held exclusively online, SP2 administration concurrently, yet quietly, instituted a scheduled raise on tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 school year. During a community meeting on July 17th, students balked at the increase and the most context the administration could provide was a half-hearted answer of “increased costs”. 

At the Community Meeting, in defense of the increase, the SP2 administration cited their ability to raise tuition by 5% each year and the cumulative student body savings achieved by only raising tuition by around 3.7%, in line with increases for Penn undergraduates. Unfortunately, these theoretical savings do not help the student body pay for the cost of attending graduate school. There is very little transparency as to what those costs are funding, and very little interest from the administration in mitigating costs for students in the middle of a global pandemic. 

After outrage was expressed by numerous members of the SP2 Peer and Support group on Facebook and among social circles, the SP2 Student Government implemented a student survey to share how these increased costs had affected them personally. In the survey distributed to all SP2 students, many conveyed that the pandemic has worsened already tenuous financial circumstances. Graduate students have numerous financial responsibilities including families to support, bills, and student loans from undergraduate education. 58% of respondents expressed that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with increased costs of SP2 has limited their abilities to afford tuition and cost-of-living expenses, with 26% having to take out more student loans or look for other financial resources to afford attending Penn in the fall. As one student from our survey said, the increase in costs by SP2 “runs counter to every value they [the administration] claim to hold.”

To make matters worse, the University of Pennsylvania, the largest employer of SP2 students, has instituted a hiring freeze through the 2021 fiscal year. Currently, SP2 students feel stuck between their growing debt and completing their degrees. Ultimately, many students are questioning whether continuing their education at Penn is the best financial decision. With university-wide hiring freezes and a collapsing domestic economy, the financial circumstances of the SP2 student body will only become more dire during the upcoming school year.  

The annual rise of tuition is frequently justified by the ever-increasing amenities, services, and campus resources commonly referred to as the “Penn experience.” This year, the “Penn experience” is not a justifiable reason for increasing tuition. The quality of education students will receive is undoubtedly limited due to it being virtual. Graduate students choose Penn for its academic, social, and professional resources. With most of campus life going on-line, SP2 students won’t have access to collaborative study spaces, mental and physical health care, school-sponsored social events, in-person office hours, library resources, guest lectures, and all other resources that constitute the “Penn experience.” 

We recognize that SP2 and the at-large University administration are doing all they can to deliver as good a product as possible. However, one must ask, how valuable is the product we are receiving? Undoubtedly, it is not equivalent to the branded “Penn experience.” As another anonymous respondent implored, “Further education should be accessible to everyone… and if SP2 is really about [social] change, now is the chance to be on the right side of history.” SP2 has an obligation to aid its students and provide the best possible student experience. 

More than 200 faculty signed an open letter urging administration to use the University’s $14 billion endowment to support graduate students. Other campus groups proposed raising scholarships and financial aid and increasing the funds available to work-study recipients. We unequivocally stand with the graduate students and faculty across campus organizing around fair tuition and fees. 

We are calling upon the SP2 administration to lower tuition or, at a minimum, freeze tuition at the 2019-2020 rate. We are calling for complete financial transparency from SP2 administration including the publishing of a complete and publicly available budget for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic creates an environment where an increase in tuition and fees from a $14 billion University is not only cruel but unethical. From surveying our peers, it is glaringly clear that there is a disconnect between SP2 administration and the needs of its student body. SP2 students chose to study at the University of Pennsylvania because of the School of Social Policy and Practice’s claim of standing for social justice. We ask the administration to prove their commitments by standing with and for their student body. 

The SP2 Student Government exists to advocate for and support SP2 students throughout their educational career at Penn. If you are an SP2 student, please, do not hesitate to contact SP2 Student Government with thoughts, feedback, or inquiries related to tuition and fees. We will assist in any way we can. 

AKANKSHA KHANNA, President

AVA SAMBRISKI, Vice President - Finance

HANN FLITE, Vice President - Communications

PIPER RILEY, Vice President - Community Action

TABATHA SCALES-LANIER, Vice President - Field Affairs

MADELYN GUERRA, MSW Representative

MATTHEW KATZ, MSSP Representative

KATIE BURNS, NPL Representative

HANNAH CAO, GAPSA Representative

LAURA MILES, GAPSA Representative

JOSLYN TROVATI, MSW Academic Review Committee

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.