Administration hopes to find new sources of revenue in future
By EMILY WILLIAMS ’16
An announcement from President H. Kim Bottomly late last month disclosed that the comprehensive fee for next year will increase by 3.5 percent, or $1,996, marking the third consecutive year that the College has increased tuition by 3.5 percent. Inflation in the United States has been approximately 1.5 percent since 2012, meaning that Wellesley’s fee increase constitutes a 2 percent increase in real tuition.
The College is currently planning to limit tuition hikes in the future by restructuring the budget and locating other sources of revenue outside of the comprehensive fee.
The Board of Trustees decided to increase the comprehensive fee at its annual winter board meeting in February. The Board came to its decision after reviewing recommendations from Bottomly, the Provost Budget Committee and the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC), all of which stood in favor of increasing the fee. The College’s senior staff, including Andrew Shennan, Provost and Dean of the College, and Debra DeMeis, Dean of Students, also reviewed the proposal.
The Board decided to raise the comprehensive fee at a higher rate than inflation in order to keep up with rising costs of other expenses associated with running a college. For example, the College had to adjust for an increase in compensational fees, such as health benefits, since the cost of these fees rises more than inflation each year. Along with compensational fees, the College must account for cost increases in expenses, such as food, energy and insurance.
The administration not only considered the costs needed to maintain the college, but also the burden a raise in the comprehensive fee will place on students, especially students receiving financial aid.
“Tuition has regularly gone up, and it has regularly gone up at a rate higher than inflation. And the question of to what extent any institution can justify that is something that has got to be given a lot more attention,” said Professor Bryan Burns, chair of the BAC.
Burns also stated that The Board considered whether the college could withstand the extra burden raising tuition would have on finances, as a higher tuition means more money required for financial aid. The administration is confident that revenue from the endowment that currently funds financial aid will keep pace with rising aid costs to supplement rising tuition.
“Fifty-eight percent of Wellesley students receive financial aid. Given the way financial aid grants are calculated and awarded, that is, based on meeting full demonstrated financial need…an increase in the comprehensive fee does not by itself increase what these students and their families pay next year,” Vice President of Finance and Administration Ben Hammond said.
Hammond explained that loan amounts are set separately from the comprehensive fee and will not increase next year. Students who receive loans or grant aid from the college will not be expected to pay more due to the rise in the comprehensive fee.
The College has decided to increase the budget for financial aid by $2.6 million, or 5 percent, in order to meet returning students’ needs as well as the needs of the incoming class.
“Since Wellesley is need-blind for U.S. students and meets the full demonstrated need for all admitted students, the actual amount of financial aid provided to students next year may be higher or lower than the amount budgeted. The College is committed to funding any shortfall should the actual amount turn out to be higher than what was budgeted. The actual number won’t be known until next year,” Hammond said.
Although the College is dedicated to a need-blind admission policy and does not plan to alter that policy next year, students remain concerned about the impact of a high sticker price on the perception that low-income prospective students will have of the school.
“Prospective students will look at the price tag, and that will influence how they think about the school, and whether or not they will apply to Wellesley. It’s a large number that could scare some people away,” Maya Marlette ’16 said.
Burns hopes that prospective Wellesley students will use financial aid calculators, such as My inTuition, to determine the actual amount they would be expected to pay for a Wellesley education.
Both Burns and Hammond believe that Wellesley’s tuition is reasonable based on the tuition costs of its peers.
“Wellesley’s comprehensive fee, and the rate of increase of that fee, has consistently been in the bottom third of a list of 28 highly selective private colleges and universities that includes the Ivy League; leading liberal arts colleges including the other four remaining Seven Sisters; and major Boston institutions, among others,” Hammond said.
Hammond also stated that Wellesley’s tuition increase is lower than those already announced by its peer institutions.
Burns hopes that increases in tuition fees will slow as the College finds new ways to reduce operating costs by restructuring its budget.
“I think for decades higher education institutions have entitled themselves to increase their costs at a higher rate than most other fields. And I don’t think that can increase at such an unchecked rate,” Burns said.
The Trustees have recently formed the Revenue Ad Hoc Committee, led by Hammond and Dean of Faculty Affairs Kathryn Lynch. The committee will explore new ways to generate income outside of the comprehensive fee in order to limit increases to the comprehensive fee in the future.