To acquire wisdom, one must observe

From the Hoot Archives: University budget woefully non-transparent

Over the next two weeks, I plan on writing two pieces regarding the operating budget of the university, since most students don’t know where their tuition goes, how it’s used or anything related to the university’s financial system. When I first set out to write this article, I assumed that this fact was mostly due to disinterest, and that many students just didn’t take the time to educate themselves. However, after spending the last week trawling the Internet, campus publications and the minutes of the last three years’ worth of faculty meetings, I’ve realized that these problems might be caused, instead, by a financial system so non-transparent that it is impossible to ascertain exactly what the university spends our money on.

I hope that these two pieces can help students understand the university’s financial situation, and where they fit into that picture. This week, I plan to focus on the most exciting part of every college student’s life: paying tuition. Though we’re not the most expensive university in the country (we’re actually only 37th most expensive, according to CampusGrotto.com), the costs to attend Brandeis are far higher than many other universities. Our current tuition rate is
$47,702 for the 2015-2016 academic year (at least according to the tuition calculator on our website, because there are slightly different figures in different places). Add in other necessary fees like housing (and the now-required meal plan that comes with it), and prices rise even more.

However, Brandeis didn’t start as one of the most expensive colleges in America. In fact, given its commitment to social justice you’d expect that it would take steps to make itself affordable, instead of forcing out those in lower socioeconomic classes. Despite that lofty goal, our tuition continues to rise at a staggering rate. Tuition in 2010 was $37,530, while today it stands at $47,702. That represents an increase of 27 percent over the last five years—almost 10 times the current inflation rate. If this continued, then by 2050 the cost of attendance at Brandeis would be $254,192 a year—more than the current price for an entire diploma. This rate of tuition increase is unsustainable and ultimately destructive to the university.

The argument typically made to support these price increases is that the university lost a significant amount of money in the 2008 financial crisis, and we now need to rebuild our school’s endowment. Though it is true that the university lost a significant amount of money in 2008, the argument is dishonest. Our total endowment has risen from $407 million in 2005, as reported by The Brandeis Hoot, to an estimated $870 million today, according to Dow Jones & Company. This means that the university is operating on an endowment 213 percent larger than in 2005, and it’s unlikely we need such massive increases in those funds. In fact, the strategic plan advocated by President Reinhartz in 2005 called for only a budgetary increase of $15 million by 2012, but we actually increased budget size by far more than that—a value closer to $100 million.

This increase in tuition is in part explained by the slight increase in financial aid awards to students. Although the Brandeis admissions website proudly proclaims that 70 percent of students receive financial aid, this doesn’t actually tell us how much they receive. Last year, there were 5,825 students enrolled in courses at Brandeis, at both graduate and undergraduate levels and in all schools and programs. We spent $88,767,000 on financial aid, equivalent to an expenditure of $15,238 per student (obviously not all students receive aid and different students receive different amounts, but this is a useful average). In comparison, in 2010 there were 5,642 Brandeis students and a total expenditure of $70,100,000, equalling $12,424.

It is a truly good thing that Brandeis has increased access to financial aid awards, especially due to our core belief in social justice and the value of accepting students from all walks of life to attend college here. However, this modest increase in aid spending isn’t enough. In 2010, tuition was $40,514, but today it is $47,702. This means that students today on average have to pay $3,500 more out of pocket each year to attend our university. For those of you who aren’t receiving aid, $3,000 might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the $200,000 you’ll be paying for your four years here at Brandeis, but for low-income families that $3,000 can be the tipping point that prevents them from being able to attend.

In addition, the majority of the money taken in through tuition hikes doesn’t go toward assisting with financial aid, but to all kinds of other things. We spend more now on faculty, on staff, on facilities and on basically everything else than we did 10 years ago. I hope to explore exactly what we’re spending our money on in a piece next week, but I’d like to end by reminding people what Brandeis’ mission actually is. We may be a private university, and we may want to boost the size of our endowment as much as possible, but that isn’t our goal. We are here to promote social justice and equality. We were created because other prestigious universities created an artificial barrier to merit—Jewish quotas. Don’t let rising tuition be the next artificial barrier that society creates.

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