Students share concerns with Flagel at forum
As a response to student questions about the recent tuition raise, the Student Union held an open forum with Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel on Wednesday April 4. About 10 students attended the forum, hosted by Student Union President Herbie Rosen '12.
Rosen spoke first, asking students to inform him if they are interested in more forums. Rosen then introduced Flagel, asking him to start by discussing the main points considered in the decision to raise tuition, and the background leading up to the decision. Flagel explained that over the last four years, tuition increases have been about 3.9 percent each year. The 2012 tuition increase is 4.1 percent for current students and 4.85 percent for new students.
Flagel mentioned that he has only been in office for about six months and that before his appointment the University made a goal of being truly need blind when it comes to financial aid. He praised the University for "[funding] more aid than many institutions."
Flagel also lauded the University for moving down from being one of "the three or five most expensive schools," over the last few years.
He continued, saying that with the 2008 economic crisis, Brandeis made drastic changes such as closing the Linsey Pool and threatening to sell work from the Rose Art Museum to "hold the line on tuition" without making other sacrifices.
He said that the University's endowment has increased, allowing for the reopening of these two institutions, but noted that "although the University is much more stable, [we are] far from comfortable." As of June 30, 2011, the University's endowment was about $703.7 million.
Flagel explained that in creating the fiscal 2013 budget, the University has tried to take into account the major concerns expressed by students about the growth pattern of the University, specifically about housing, class size and access to faculty.
Flagel continued by saying that to alleviate the "tightness in the residence halls" the University is trying to decrease the incoming first-year class by 30 to 50 students. The fall Class of 2015 has approximately 855 students, whereas the fall first-year classes of the previous few years have had about 750 students. He said that about 25 percent of the current first-year class was placed in lofted triples, and that the University hopes to go back down to the previous 10 percent.
Flagel added that if the University were to limit the first-year class to about 750 students, the tuition could increase to around 5 percent for current students.
When students mentioned that they felt powerless and that they did not have an adequate say in the decision to raise tuition, Flagel responded that "most of higher education has no student input, but we'd like to be better."
When it was suggested that open forums take place while the budget is being discussed, not after it is decided, Flagel said that "for all future budgets, I'll commit, unless they fire me before then, ... that we'll have more [open forums]."
When asked if detailed records displaying how Brandeis allocates its money were readily available for students to view online, Flagel said that some tax documents were available online. He elaborated that rather than having a PDF document, it would be more feasible to work with student media to compress the large volume of budgetary documents into a digestible version available to students. He joked, "if you want to see how much we're spending on Kleenex we can get down to that level," but said that while students would be able to see where large chunks of the budget are allocated, certain specifics, such as individual salaries, would remain private. "My social security number is also not available" for viewing, he said jokingly.
Subsequently, when asked if these documents include information on Aramark dining services, Flagel said students would be able to see revenue models for Aramark, but not their detailed budgets because Aramark is a private company. However, Flagel stated that Brandeis intends to include students in the process of biding the dining contract over the next year.
Next, it was suggested that tuition should be frozen at the student's time of entrance to Brandeis because, although students should be aware that tuition increases occur every year, those increases almost seem unfair because of their unpredictable and potentially large variability. Flagel replied that continuing Brandeis' transparency will help students understand the tuition increase, and added, "At Brandeis there shouldn't be a question you can't ask."
Chase Hiller '12 commented, "I found [it] helpful to interact with members of [the administration]. I think it's important for students to offer their input on things that the Board of Trustees [is] doing."
However, Michael Sklaroff '13 felt slightly skeptical because President Frederick Lawrence has previously stated that one of his priorities was to lower tuition. "Since we've had [economic] conditions that have been markedly better ... I've just wondered what's changed ... or how [Lawrence] is inadequately informed about the fiscal disposition of the school such that [he won't] be able to keep that promise."
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