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‘We are caught in an inflationary vise.’ At BU, tuition surges past $61,000 in largest hike in 14 years.

Greg Lopatynsky had his picture taken by his mother Alexandra outside Marsh Chapel at Boston University in 2020.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston University will raise undergraduate tuition by 4.25 percent in the fall to $61,050, marking the highest tuition hike at the school in the past 14 years, according to the university’s president, Robert A. Brown. Including room and board, the increase will bring the total cost of attendance to nearly $83,000.

Brown announced the hefty tuition hike in a Friday letter to faculty and staff posted on BU’s website.

The increase comes at a time when many families are stretched thin financially as inflation rises at record rates. But college budgets are also stretched as employees, their main expense, also look for raises.

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“People don’t want a 4 percent tuition increase, but people who work at colleges also don’t want to take a substantial pay cut after inflation,” said Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at the University of Tennessee Knoxville who specializes in higher education finance.

Brown added in his note that the tuition hike does not keep pace with the national rate of inflation and can’t “fully offset” increased operating costs at the university.

“I also am mindful that our students and their families are affected by our increases and by inflation,” Brown wrote. “We are caught in an inflationary vise between the institutional pressures and the impact on our students and their families.”

Brown also cited what he said were “many reasons” for optimism about BU’s future.

“We all have seen the campus tours for prospective applicants led by our enthusiastic Admissions Ambassadors,” he wrote. “The striking angularities and distinctive façade of the Center for Computing & Data Sciences are now visible. This amazing facility is emblematic of our commitment to lead in research across all our disciplines. And our newly promoted faculty members inspire us with their commitment to leadership in research and to educating our students.”

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The president said BU is on target to enroll a freshman class larger than an expected number of 3,100.

“Increased undergraduate financial aid is helping make a Boston University education accessible to a more diverse student population,” Brown wrote.

BU has around 16,500 undergraduate students who each receive an average of $44,500 in need-based grants and scholarships, according to the university’s website.

His announcement comes a month after the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees voted to increase in-state, undergraduate tuition by 2.5 percent for the 2022-2023 academic year, which would add $395 to the bill of a student at the flagship Amherst campus, and slightly less at the Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell campuses.

The cost of attendance at other private schools in the area has also recently crossed the $80,000 threshold.

The cost of Wellesley College, including room and board, is $81,000 next year, according to the school’s website. Boston College costs $80,296 including room and board.

Amherst College costs $80,250 not including fees and health insurance. MIT costs $79,850, according to its website.

Phillip Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College who recently wrote a book about college pricing and access, cautioned that it is important to put the increases in context.

The US inflation rate is 8.5 percent but BU tuition only rose 4.25 percent, he said, so that is technically a 4 percent cut.

“If anything I think that what we see more broadly among institutions is restraint in increases relative to the level of inflation,” he said, adding that schools with large endowments have seen record returns recently which have allowed them to increase financial aid and keep tuition increases smaller than they could have been.

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It’s also important to keep in mind that only a set of very wealthy students pay full tuition, Levine said. The majority receive financial aid in the form of a tuition discount.

“College costs have risen, but certainly over the last decade or so at not that high of a rate,” he said.

The biggest cost for college is workers, and wages have not risen as rapidly as other goods and services, contributing to the fact that prices have risen less than inflation, Levine said.

Kelchen, the University of Tennessee Knoxville professor, said there is more scrutiny than ever of college costs, but institutions have many fixed costs so cutting expenses in a meaningful way in the short term is difficult, short of layoffs.

“Students don’t want things like large class sizes and lots of adjunct faculty,” he said. “Students want things that are expensive, employees want pay increases and to keep benefits, and everyone would prefer that someone else pay for it.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.