On Wednesday, Feb. 19, President H. Kim Bottomly announced a 3.5 percent increase in the comprehensive fee for the 2014-2015 academic year, raising the College’s price tag to $59,038 per year. With estimated costs for books, personal expenses and travel, the cost of one year at Wellesley exceeds $60,000. Wellesley is among several other institutions to raise tuition. For example, MIT announced a 3.4 percent increase, Columbia University a 3.1 percent increase and Princeton University a 4.1 percent tuition hike. The cost of higher education is increasing rapidly relative to inflation, which was 1.5 percent in 2013. Why are tuition hikes so substantial?
President of Dartmouth College Phillip Hanlon attributes tuition increases to colleges funding new projects while allowing old ones to continue and called for “innovation through substitution.” Similarly, economist Ronald Ehrenberg of Cornell University states in his paper “Tuition Rising, Why College Costs so Much” that in order to moderate tuition increases, colleges must adopt the mindset of growing by substitution, not by expansion.
This principle is especially applicable to Wellesley as the College invests resources into the Campus Renewal projects. Bottomly reiterated that our tuition does not fund Campus Renewal. But the fact remains that our comprehensive fee increase is paying for an experience that includes departments that cannot afford to hire more faculty members, increasing class sizes in popular majors and one of the most expensive meal plans in the Boston area.
We will be required to shell out a 3.5 percent increase while, according to the U.S. News and World Report, our college rankings dropped from the fourth-best liberal arts college in 2010 to sixth in 2012 and seventh in 2014. In light of this, when Bottomly justifies the tuition increase as necessary “to support and achieve our core academic mission and priorities,” there must be greater transparency as to how the College’s mission and priorities are being being achieved.
A recent report from the Provost’s Budget Committee (PBC) described how the College has been “borrowing from our buildings” for many years and that now, we see the consequences. However, the report also noted that the College would seek a net decrease of eight tenure-eligible faculty members to pay for maintenance for our deteriorating buildings. Issues caused by the decisions of previous budget committees now lead to rising tuition costs for current students and “borrow” from the quality of education of Wellesley’s future students. Prospective students may not, and arguably should not, come to a college where tuition hikes outstrip inflation while facilities are not on par with those at peer colleges.
Higher tuition costs mean more debt after graduation and a heavier burden to shoulder when students leave Wellesley. According to College Board, the amount of grant aid that colleges offer students is not increasing at the same rate as yearly tuition increases. Students and families are therefore borrowing more in order to afford the rising cost of a college degree. Rises in tuition are preventing students from enrolling in college, resulting in high numbers of college dropouts and burdening those who do manage to graduate from college with loans. This trend is weighing down present and future generations and creating a labor force that is not sufficiently educated to face the growing demand for technology-related and skill-based jobs.
Bottomly addressed the concern of rising tuition by recognizing that higher education is becoming increasingly unaffordable and stating the importance of continuing to offer financial aid to all who need it. Wellesley College continues to provide its students with significant grant aid. (At Wellesley, 58 percent of students receive grant aid.) The average award is $39,000, totaling nearly $53.4 million in grants for all students. However, our good financial aid record does not negate the negative repercussions of rising tuition or the undeniable fact that many students and families consistently struggle to afford a Wellesley education.
In order to lessen the financial burden of loans on graduating students and safeguard our commitment to attracting students from all economic backgrounds, Wellesley needs to respond to rising tuition with more transparency and more grant aid. Depending on a yearly 3.5 percent increase in the comprehensive fee will be an unsustainable and irresponsible financial model for the College. The PBC report acknowledges a “growing pressure to moderate the pace of increase” of tuition but makes no specific effort to slow this increase. College affordability as well as quality of campus life and education must be at the forefront of the PBC’s priorities.