EDITORIAL: Demand end to significant tuition hikes
As is standard procedure in higher education, Executive Director for Integrated Media Bill Schaller announced a 3.7 percent rise in tuition, room and board on Monday for the 2015 to 2016 academic year. The total cost of attendance of our prestigious socially just University, including tuition, room and board, will be approximately $65,300. In other news, the cost of a barrel of oil dropped a few basis points, and the S&P 500 saw gains throughout the day. The annual tuition increase—not only at Brandeis but across the country—has become so matter-of-fact that it ought to belong with other financial news in Forbes as opposed to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
This should not be the norm in higher education, nor should it be for Brandeis. The perils of perpetual tuition hikes have been well argued in the zeitgeist; the commoditization of education is a dangerous path which leaves education for only the select few who can afford it.
The tuition hike of our institution begs an even deeper level of scrutiny. Of course, this board wonders how one can reconcile a nearly $70,000 cost of attendance—more than four times the annual salary of a national minimum wage worker—with social justice. But in more grounded terms, we wonder why this tuition hike was necessary in the first place.
As has been touted by the University, most notably by University President Frederick Lawrence and Provost Lisa Lynch at a November 2014 faculty meeting, the University is expected to run at a surplus for the next 10 years, including this upcoming year with its higher cost of attendance. The reasons stated behind the guaranteed surplus are “strong undergraduate enrollment,” “higher personnel vacancy savings,” “energy efficiency efforts and other procurement efforts,” as Senior Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Marianne Cwalina told the Justice at the time. Increasing tuition was not mentioned as a driver toward the surplus.
Even more so, the University appears to have accrued some semblance of disposable funds with the recent $32 million sale of Brandeis House in New York City. Lynch implied that these funds could be used for reinvestment in faculty—an operational use we endorse, but an operational use nonetheless. Regardless, the budgetary surplus of the University appears to have just grown by $32 million—and nevertheless, tuition increased yet again.
At their core, universities exist for the purposes of teaching, learning and conducting research—all other cost-based factors should be with the express intent of supporting those core competencies. Universities need students and faculty to teach and learn; all else is secondary.
The notion of tuition remaining constant is not unheard of in higher education. Purdue University has maintained a tuition freeze for a third straight year, with President Mitch Daniels noting, “Instead of asking our students’ families to adjust their budgets to our desired spending, let’s try to adjust our spending to their budgets.” Mount Holyoke College, Sewanee; the University of the South and, most recently, Howard University have all frozen tuition for at least one year. Still others, like Seton Hall University and Ashland University, have decreased tuition. Inflation is a buzzword others have managed to overcome; why can’t we?
The broader aim of the operational budget, especially as a nonprofit institution, should not be to maximize potential cash flow to produce the largest surplus. Rather, it should strive to operate on minimal cost. We are well aware of the budget constraints that are associated with a University as young and small as ours. Yet this year presented a unique opportunity to display a sign of good faith toward the student body. The budget surplus coupled with the Brandeis House cash flow influx presented an opportunity to keep the already exorbitant tuition stagnant, if even just for one year.
Such a move would have exemplified the Brandeisian commitment to social justice—instead the words are, once again, hollow.
-An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Bill Schaller as the Senior Vice President and Cheif Operating Officer. He is, in fact, the Executive Director for Integrated Media.