By Matthew Korinek
In mid-March, right around the time spring treks were cancelled, I remember countless conversations with other Sternies centered around a single position: given the current and unexpected environment, the administration must consider reducing tuition. Zoom University was in its early stages, all networking was cancelled, and many of us fled New York City to head home. The Stern MBA experience, we signed up for, no longer existed. Early in the transition to a virtual environment, we were told that the Stern degree was essentially formed from two things: the diploma we will receive and the school’s reputation – which couldn’t survive a tuition decrease. (Although, somehow Harvard’s reputation will be just fine without raising tuition.) Fast forward over the next few weeks, and we were not given a reimbursement at any point during the spring. But we understood and accepted that course of action. It wasn’t NYU’s fault that we were put in that situation, and they could not have expected a global pandemic of that magnitude. The fall semester was months away, and surely things would be back to normal by then.
The summer started in a somewhat optimistic fashion. The school helped me (and I’m sure many of my classmates) find a “paying” internship. Summer classes were remote, but the plan was to reconvene in-person in September. As late as July, we got emails telling us how the university was planning for students to come back to campus. However, as the summer moved forward, the optimism started to fade. Our MBA town-halls were ambiguous at best, and little to no clarity was provided. We were told over and over that they were being completely transparent. But as we’re all aware, we eventually found out that not only would the majority of classes be remote, tuition would be increased.
Many of you may know me and may know that I authored one of the letters sent to President Hamilton, which was signed by almost 300 of us. But you probably don’t know all of the background that led to the letter and what ultimately transpired after it was sent. I had conversations with Dean Grennan and the financial aid office during the spring and early summer. I applaud them for taking so much time to listen to us and hear our concerns. However, those conversations are ultimately why this letter was written.
I was told tuition would remain the same, only for that single line to be amended with, “the same as reported a few weeks ago.” I offered to help strategize and be a part of the solution but was never included. I asked the administration to look into innovative programs that wouldn’t cost anything but would offer a lot of goodwill to students. I even offered some of my own ideas. When tuition was raised, without an explanation, it shut down all of those ideas from earlier in the year. I don’t want to explain the same grievances again, but I want to highlight the journey I faced.
I expected the school to step in and at least change the fall semester in a unique way that was different than the spring. I expected completely new ideas for classes that would be all online. I thought students would help provide solutions that could transform the business school experience. I was one of the many students asking questions such as: what jobs will be available after graduation? How will we network and recruit during the fall? Will we ever get the ability to travel abroad as part of our experience? There were (and still are) so many unanswered questions that affect our business school experience. It started to appear that these questions weren’t being addressed. I wrote the letter when I realized our voices had not been heard. Maybe a letter signed by 300 of us could inspire administration to reassess their decision.
No one in the administration ever reached out to me, but I did have the opportunity to share my opinions with Dean Sundaram. He took the time to respond and he provided a thoughtful response. I won’t share all of the details of that exchange, but I believe the students’ incentives and the school’s incentives are fundamentally different during this time. It’s a hard challenge to overcome, and I certainly do not envy the position that the administration is in. This is a once-in-a-generation situation, and various decisions can have huge impacts on different groups. At the same time, this information could have been and should have been shared broadly with the MBA class, before tuition was announced. It should not have been classified and only shared to defend a decision.
I bring this to light because this journey was set in motion by many of the acts performed by the administration. If there had been clear communication and an understanding that our experience is substantially worse than any other previous MBA class, then perhaps we would have accepted a tuition increase more calmly. If they had notified us early on in the summer that tuition was going up and we had clear options for handling that increase with time to prepare, then perhaps it wouldn’t have become such a major issue. The 3.5% increase is very minor compared to the total cost. But it seemed to me, and I’m sure you, my classmates, that the administration tried to hide it and act like there was no other option. Our tuition is considered by many outside of the business school world to be exorbitant. Yes, we signed up for that because of the education we get from world-class professors, along with the experience that NYU can provide with its location and opportunities. Education on Zoom is not world-class. Even the in-person classes are different. There is no longer an experiential learning component. There is no longer an advantage to being in NYC; anyone can network on Zoom from anywhere. Many peer institutions did not increase tuition, and they expect their reputation to remain strong. NYU made a decision that they think is best, and I believe it was made in the interest of their bottom line and not in the interest of students.