A student planning to attend NYU is taking the fight against the rising cost of higher education into her own hands after she got a bill showing an estimated cost of attendance of nearly $71,000 from the lower Manhattan school.
Nia Mirza, of Pakistan, started a Change.org petition asking NYU to reconsider its decision to what she says was a sudden rise in tuition, citing figures from the 2014-15 year as a comparison, though NYU officials said the figures she cited were incorrect.
“People who planned their budget according to the previously stated costs, and have exhausted all their resources in doing so, are in a serious problem. They know they have to go to NYU by hook or by crook because they have no other option anymore,” Mirza said in the petition.
Mirza, who applied to the school through its early decision program, lists her estimated expenses for the school year after tuition was set. Tuition is budgeted at $22,546. The next highest expense is housing, at $8,790. Transportation, books and supplies, fees and miscellaneous expenses rack up a combined $4,151.
In the petition, Mirza also called out the skyrocketing tuition at NYU and other schools.
"Parents exhaust all of their resources to send their children to NYU and in the case when the kids are more than one, affordability becomes nearly impossible. Childrens' education should be an honor for parents, not a burden of extreme intensity," she wrote.
Students already enrolled at NYU say it's a huge problem.
Mariel, a junior classical piano performance major, was rushing from class to a side job Wednesday afternoon as she described the looming challenges of paying down her student loan.
"It's hard to balance working in school when you have to balance working to pay back loans," she said.
"College costs are outrageous," another student agreed. "Prices are getting higher. It's becoming quite an issue."
An NYU official disputed that tuition was suddenly increased, and said in a statement that students who applied through early decision were being accepted while budgeting plans were still being set.
"Part of what the students are able to see now online in their accounts is the difference between this year's tuition and fees and next year's: an annual tuition increase of approximately 3% -- in line with recent annual increases at NYU and other private research universities -- that reflect increases in our cost of operations," said Vice President of Public Affairs John Beckman.
Beckman also added that the actual cost of tuition for 2014-15 is $66,542 -- not the $64,000 cited in Mirza's petition -- while the estimated cost of attendance cited to students include figures that are not charged by the university, like textbooks, travel and transportation expenses the student may have to spend individually.
Beckman said that the school has also "significantly improved" financial aid over the past few years, with the financial aid budget increasing about 140 percent since 2002, and the average scholarship grant increasing from 34 percent of tuition to 55 percent over the last 10 years.
Still, the overall rising sticker price of a college education is plaguing young Americans. There are an estimated 40 million Americans paying off $1.2 trillion in student loans, according to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a nonprofit organization aiming to make college education more affordable.
For some who manage to secure high-paying jobs after college, loans may be manageable -- but the rest are left to weigh the risk and reward of their own education.
Rhonda Schaffler, editor at large at financial website The Street, says it's important to consider the earning potential of a career when choosing a college.
"The amount of student debt we have is second only to mortgages," she said. "It's more than credit cards, auto loans; we really are awash in student debt."
Eighty percent of students at private schools graduate with some debt, and the number is slightly lower at public universities, according to TICAS. The class of 2013 graduated with an average $28,400 in debt, but with an NYU degree, the school said 8 out of every 10 students graduating that year had jobs.
Mariel is hoping the pricey degree will similarly pay off for her.
"We can only hope so. It's great to have a school with a name -- I guess that's what you're paying for," she said.
-- John Chandler contributed to this report