It’s no secret that college tuition is high. In the 2012-2013 calendar year, full tuition at the college, including room and board, reached $55,750, but $57,850 has now been determined for the 2013-2014 year. Full costs have increased annually by about 4.4 percent over the last decade equating to an approximate $2,000 increase each year over that timespan.
Suzanne Welsh, vice president for finance and treasury, explained that the budgeting process begins in the fall when each department of the college reviews its specific needs and submits a budget request for the following year. The president’s staff review all the requests and forwards them to the president. Welsh, however, searches for information from a variety of sources in order to make decisions about how much tuition for the coming year will be.
“My office works on the revenue side of the budget,” Welsh said. “With respect to student charges, for example, we gather information about national economic data, fees of our peers, etc.”
Welsh further noted that The College Budget Committee (CBC) meets periodically throughout the process too.
“By January, we usually have a set of budget requests that greatly exceeds the amount of funds available,” she said. “The process to come up with a balanced budget, a recommended tuition increase, and recommended salary increases for faculty and staff takes several weeks during the winter. The president presents a budget recommendation to the Finance Committee and the Board of Managers in February.”
Even so, concerns from students have been raised about the ever-increasing prices. Jesse Bossingham ’16 is concerned about where tuition money is going.
“I think that it’s interesting that we’re having a conversation about childcare for staff,” he said. “Especially when alumni are donating funds specifically for renovating buildings at the same time that tuition is going up. In order to ensure a complex and diverse student body, it is really important that we make sure finances are not a barrier to attending this college.”
Welsh noted that Swarthmore’s increases are in line with those of a comparable group of selective private institutions and that often the cost had actually been lower.
Looking at comparable liberal arts colleges, tuition appears to be similar across the board. Amherst College costs $57,970 per year while at Haverford costs reach $59,446. Middlebury College totals $57,075 while at Williams, the cost for the upcoming year will total $59,712. The standard comprehensive charge made to each student for tuition at Pomona is $54,964, $786 less than Swarthmore’s. Notably, none of these costs include books, personal items or travel expenses.
”Swarthmore’s increases have actually been lower than some comparable institutions,” said Welsh. “With that said, however, we are in a period of low inflation currently, and growth in national family incomes has not kept up with increases in tuition. Swarthmore’s financial aid program, for students who qualify, mitigates concerns about affordability. However, for many families who do not qualify for financial aid, affordability is a valid concern.”
Though financial aid mitigates monetary stress, some students don’t feel that the assistance they receive is enough. A member of the class of 2014 who chose to remain anonymous because of his financial aid situation explained that even though his family received help from the school, sometimes the money just wasn’t enough.
“My family gets about $15,000 a year from the college,” he said. “I understand the many expenses of the college and of all the departments, but I know for a fact that the money we get is just not enough. One of my parents called the college this past summer to ask them to review our financial statements again because we didn’t think we could pay the rest of the cost. They wouldn’t budge.”
He explained that his parents had been forced to dip into their retirement accounts, as well as forced to ask extended family for monetary aid. On top of this, by his sophmore year his parents had also asked him to take out a student loan.
“I understand there are people in more difficult financial situations,” he said, “But the amount I receive, based on my family’s income makes things hard.”
Welsh, though, noted that the College is committed to maintaining access and affordability.
“We recognize that resources for the budget will be more limited in the future. In a low inflation environment, the rate of increase in tuition is likely to continue to slow. Likewise, endowment returns in this financial environment are likely to be lower as well.”
Alexandra Willingham ’15 serves on the College Budget Committee, (CBC) which gives students a glimpse of the college’s budget and finance policies. Although she and her fellow members are required to respect the confidentiality of the reports, from her experience serving on the committee, she believes that the college’s decision to raise tuition fees is justified.
“Tuition increases because inflation raises the cost of a college education,” she said. “Presenters in the meetings showed us how Swarthmore tuition has actually increased less than the inflation rate in the past few years, while wages for faculty and staff have increased. Having seen the numbers it’s not a case of the administration needing to justify an unfair policy; this is an economic reality that occurs at all colleges.”
Welsh also explained that tuition and endowment provide 90 percent of the revenues in the annual budget.
“The implications of this are that we will need to live more simply as a community since resources to add programs, staff, and new services will be reduced. There will also be pressure on salary pools. Fundraising will be essential to implement new strategic initiatives.”