Updated as of 4:41 p.m. on Feb. 13 to include additional student comment and cost of attendance data from other universities and colleges in North Carolina.

In addition to the three jobs she works on campus, freshman Lucy Conrey also takes out about $34,500 in loans each year to pay for the cost of attending Elon University.

But now, Conrey is concerned it won’t be enough. Next academic year, Elon will increase undergraduate tuition, meals and housing by 4.96%, according to an email sent to families by Elon University President Connie Book on Jan. 30.

“I've only been here for one semester, but prices and tuition and costs just keep increasing,” Conrey said. “It's a little concerning, because I know the economy's having issues but I just think we're paying so much and what is that money going toward?”

According to Vice President for Finance and Administration Janet Williams, the 4.96% increase in total cost can be further broken down to a 5.5% increase in tuition and a 3.5% increase in meals and housing.

Williams said in an interview with Elon News Network that though the cost increase will help maintain and recruit faculty and staff, the majority of funding will be “student centered” — specifically around the expansion of HealthEU.

“We're making investments in our schools and our academic programs, like business and health sciences programs,” Williams said. “So we're very focused on making sure that we're being student centered, and helping students be successful.”

The 2024-25 cost increase is the third significant increase in a row over the past three years — with a 9% increase in the 2022-23 academic year and a 5.14% increase in the 2023-24 academic year.

Previously, tuition had not been increased more than 4% for any year since the 2011-12 academic year.

Though she loves attending Elon, Conrey said the university’s annual cost increase is stressful and puts more pressure on her future.

“The idea of having to take more out is a little stressful because I know that there's no other college that I want to be at,” Conrey said. “The financial stress is something I do think about a lot — just the debt that I am going to be in and how long it's going to take for me to pay it off.”

According to Williams, a portion of the funds will be dedicated to recipients of need-based financial aid.

“We understand that the cost of a college education can be daunting,” Williams said. “If this 4.9% increase creates a hardship, we're making funds available that will help them meet the current tuition increase. So it's really important to have those conversations with the financial aid office, because there is funds that will help assist them.”

Despite this, Conrey said she feels most need-based students are not represented in decisions to raise the cost of attendance.

“Elon is an expensive school,” Conrey said. “Sometimes I feel like there's a little bit of ignorance when it comes to students who do have to take out loans and do have the financial burden.”

Compared to Elon’s 2023-24 undergraduate costs, this is an anticipated rise in tuition from $44,536 to $46,985 for the year. In total, Elon’s sticker price of $60,657 for tuition, fees, food and housing in the 2023-24 academic year climbs to roughly $63,242 for the 2024-25 academic year.

Conrey said she is also concerned about the increases in price for parking permits announced at the beginning of this academic year.

“It's definitely concerning, especially from my point of view when I am taking out loans,” Conrey said. “If it keeps increasing, I don't know where to go from there.”

Junior Liam Kress said when he heard Elon was significantly raising tuition for the third year in a row, his main question was “Where is the money going?”

“My biggest problem is there is an inherent lack of transparency,” Kress said.

Kress said he understands Elon needs to increase tuition and hopes that the money is going toward student engagement and wellness, paying faculty and staff and highlighting student performance. But Kress said he becomes concerned when he sees the university spend money on things he finds less focused on current students.

“It really hurts me to see how much this school puts into their branding with the addition of new signs and new things for admissions, where that money should 100% go toward paying their faculty,” Kress said.

As part of the university’s Boldly Elon Strategic Plan, Elon’s Long Range Planning Committee chose 15 peer institutions that it feels compares with Elon based on criteria such as size, scope and resources.

Compared to the other peer institutes listed, Elon’s estimated 2023-24 cost of attendance is $6,996 to $28,918 less expensive.

But Elon ranks higher in total cost of attendance when compared with other four-year universities in North Carolina. Based on U.S. News’ 2024 top 16 colleges and universities in North Carolina, Elon ranks fourth in highest cost of attendance for out-of-state students. 

Despite her increasing debt, Conrey said she acknowledges that it was her choice to attend Elon.

“It was a choice,” Conrey said. “I could have gone to an in-state school where it would have been cheaper. I would have gotten more scholarships, but I had to make that financial decision, which is something I'm willing to admit to. There were other options, but Elon was the best for me. So at the end of the day, I'll have the debt and that's just how it's going to be.”

Lilly Molina, Sarah T. Moore and Chris Bassalik contributed to the reporting of this story.