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Admin., Board need to show greater transparency in tuition increase

By José Castellanos

Section: Opinions

April 8, 2016

On April 1, Interim President Lisa M. Lynch announced that the Board of Trustees had approved a plan to increase undergraduate tuition by 3.9 percent for the 2016-2017 academic year, stating that the increase will “allow [the university] to maintain [its] commitment to providing [students] with an education of the highest quality and will sustain the financial aid that makes Brandeis accessible to students across the socioeconomic spectrum.”

Though an increase in tuition is welcome news to no one but the administration who now does not have to worry about extensive fundraising in order to obtain the amount of money that they deemed necessary, it is troubling that neither Lynch nor the Board of Trustees has laid out a comprehensive breakdown of both how much money will be raised and exactly how much will be allocated to what projects. However, some of these figures have already been calculated, thanks to students like Shaquan McDowell ’18.

The day after the announcement, McDowell took to social media and provided the numbers that Lynch and the Board of Trustees should have already shared with the student body. According to McDowell, with figures supported by the Brandeis website, a tuition increase of 3.9 percent would take the $47,702 tuition from the 2015-2016 academic year and increase it to $49,586, a $1,844 increase per student. Multiplying this number by the current undergraduate population of Brandeis of 3,610 gives a total increase of $6,801,240, all at the expense of the undergraduate student body. For many students, this represents a dramatic increase to what is already staggeringly high tuition rates, especially for those who have to work to pay off their own tuition, some of whom would now have to incur additional debt in order to compensate for the increase in tuition.

So what’s the extra $6.8 million going toward? The question is never expressly answered by Lynch in her email. In her email, Lynch only describes some of the planned investments, but fails to provide any clear figures regarding what the money will be spent on. Lynch explains that, in a commitment to maintaining a low student-to-faculty ratio, 17 new full-time, tenure-track faculty will be hired, and initiatives will be taken around campus, such as raising the funding for sexual assault awareness, prevention and support services to $750,000, as well as the creation of a new position: the chief diversity officer. Additionally, Lynch states that there will be improvements toward campus infrastructure work, such as $2 million in sustainability and renovation efforts and projects in East Quad and the eventual rebuilding of a residence hall on the Castle site (which seems doubtful given that the Waltham Historical Commission has postponed the demolition of Usen Castle by a year). Now, aside from the doubtfulness of the Castle, all these are legitimate uses of increased funding, especially the prevention and support services, mainly due to the fact Brandeis has received a poor grade on campus prevention and support services and needs to drastically improve in this area. Additionally, a high standard of education does need to be maintained, diversity is something that Brandeis desperately needs to improve on, and there has been a myriad of complaints from students about East Quad for years.

The issue is not in what the money is being used for. The issue is that so much of the money is left unaccounted for. The only numbers that are ever given in this email is the $2 million that are to be put toward renovation projects and the $750,000 that will be put towards prevention and support services. As McDowell stated in his post, it can be safely assumed that the professors will earn the United States median average of $89,000 for tenured professors, amounting to approximately $1,513,000, and the chief diversity officer could be given a relatively generous salary of $300,000. Adding this all together gives a sum of $4,563,000, which leaves $2,237,240 unaccounted for. This is especially troubling given how late in the semester the tuition increase was announced.

Again, this piece is not a challenge to what the accounted money will be put towards. These are all areas that Brandeis needs to improve on to ensure that it can better provide for the needs of its students. Rather, this piece is a call to Lynch and the Board of Trustees to release the exact figures that they had calculated and inform the student body as a whole of what they are, and exactly what every dollar will be put towards. It’s no secret that Brandeis has one of the most expensive tuition rates in the country, so if both Lynch and the Board of Trustees expect the student body to incur increases on already horrendously expensive tuition, then the least that they owe their students is to tell them exactly where this money is going.

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