Junior Jasmine Smith toured colleges knowing she might not be able to attend a four-year university without a scholarship. She had two choices in spring 2020 — the second semester of her senior year of high school —  pay upward of $62,000 per year for the University of the Arts in Philadelphia or pay what was $51,062 per year at the time.  Despite a scholarship, Smith is paying her tuition and fees out of pocket.

Smith was one of 1,584 freshmen who enrolled at Elon for the 2020-21 academic year — just one year before the university's largest tuition increase to date. Now, Smith and other students paying full price are facing yet another challenge: a 5% increase on top of last year's 9%. From the time Smith began at Elon, tuition and fees at Elon University have increased by $7,952, or 15.6%.

"I'm always gonna have to work twice as hard as the next person to get where I want to be just because I am steps back from other people,” Smith said. “It's disappointing on the university's behalf, of a school that I literally advocate for.”

As a tour guide and a diversity ambassador, Smith spends her working hours talking to prospective students and families about Elon. But the tuition and fees increase made her feel discouraged. In her role, Smith gives families of color a more personalized tour of campus. Smith said if tuition keeps increasing, diversity on campus will decrease. 

“If anything, the school will become more and more white, because if you look at just who's able to afford all that, it's not going to be the diverse population they want to achieve,” Smith said. “A lot of people on tour, they see the school and then they get discouraged and they don't come back, or they leave halfway on tour. It's like they know this place isn't for them.”

Junior Maria Cerimele is in a similar situation to Smith. She said by the time she graduates next May, she will have to pay back roughly $150,000 to $200,000 in loans over eight years, which is based on both interest and Elon’s new tuition cost. This past July, an undergraduate loan interest rate increased from 3.73% to 4.99%, according to Business Insider. This increase results in higher monthly payments, something Ceremile said placed her in a position of stress. 

“I was really upset. I’ve struggled with knowing that I have to pay for college for a long time. Hearing the increase, the numerical amount, it’s a lot. Loans, because of interest, they hike it up. So, it’s just really stressful knowing that I have to, in eight years, pay all of this off. With the increase, it was just like, like, I had a conversation with my dad as if it was worth it to even come back. Because that’s a lot of money. So, yeah, it was just a lot to hear.”

In a statement to Elon News Network, Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Jeff Stein wrote, “Elon takes the prospect of potential increases for Elon families extremely seriously, as can be seen from the increase for 2021-2022 being the lowest in nearly 40 years. The budget committee and board of trustees worked to create next year’s budget in a manner that would keep our costs about $13,000 lower than peer universities but would also address inflation and most importantly support increases in financial aid, hiring of additional faculty and staff, efforts to retain staff and faculty, and more.”

Ceremile does not have a scholarship, works three jobs and is a member of a sorority. She said she does not have any free time because of how hard she has to work to pay for her education. She said an issue she has is that people who don’t pay their own tuition act judgmental when she can’t participate in social activities. 

“I can't do XY and Z because of tuition. I need to worry about getting that done at the

end of the day. People are like, oh, like you're paying your own tuition? Why are you paying your tuition? My parents are paying for mine,” she said. “I'm just like, Well, my parents aren't and I can't hate them for that. They paid for their own tuition, so it's only fair that I pay for my own. But, it's just it's moreso bothersome when people are just like 'oh, I'm debt free. I don't have to worry about loans blah, blah, blah. And it's just like, like I do.'”

According to data from the U.S. News and World Report, 64% of college students in 2021 had to take on debt to afford college. But, according to Elon’s undergraduate tuition website, the cost of Elon is still “more than $13,000 less than that of most peer private colleges and universities,” crediting this to why the university is rated a best value university by the U.S. News and World Report. 

Elon’s peer institutions include Chapman University, Gonzaga University, Marquette University, Santa Clara University and University of Denver. Marquette’s cost of attendance for the 2023-24 academic school year is $48,700, while Santa Clara’s is $81,054. Elon’s sticker cost of attendance price for the 2023-24 school year is $62,514.

If Ceremilie could say one thing to the policy makers, she said she’d express her frustration. 

“It kind of makes me feel a little bit like they don't care about their students,” Cerimele said. “I hate saying that, but that is in all honesty how it makes me feel because like, where is my money going?”

Elon News Network has requested multiple times for comment from senior staff. They declined multiple requests to comment.