Effective college cost on the rise after period of decline

| Contributing Reporter
Josh Goldman | Student Life

Tuition increased 7.9 percent on public campuses and 4.5 percent at private institutions this year, according to the Trends in College Pricing 2010 report published by the College Board.

The report is a collection of statistical data that seeks to assess the ability of students and their families to subsidize four years of college.

While tuition has increased across the board over the past 15 years, the net cost to students has actually decreased thanks to financial aid packages and grant subsidies that have increased with rising tuition.

But this trend is expected to reverse this year, as the College Board estimates that the net cost of private institutions will increase. Net tuition costs for the 2010-2011 academic year are expected to average $11,320 at private institutions—up from $10,270 the previous year.

The national average for tuition at private institutions this academic year is estimated at $27,290. If room and board were included, the grand total would rise to $36,990. Washington University’s price tag is well above the national average and comes in at $52,892—tuition alone is $39,400.

At Washington University, student financial aid packages are determined by a formula that takes into account both tuition increases and a family’s financial situation.

“Students’ need is calculated based on cost of attending minus expected family contribution,” said Bill Witbrodt, director of Student Financial Services. “If tuition increases and the family expected contribution remains the same, students’ financial aid will follow as much as the tuition increases. This is how we work.”

Despite the University’s above-average price tag, the University was 13th in Kiplinger’s Best Values in Private Colleges ranking, which was released in October.

The Kiplinger ranking differs from traditional college assessments since selectivity and academics only account for two-thirds of the ranking. The remaining third is computed by factoring in variables such as average need-based aid, the percentage of students receiving non-need-based aid and average debt at graduation.

Though the University fell to 17th in average need-based aid awarded, it maintained the 14th spot among colleges in terms of average debt at graduation: $17,288.

The University was just ranked as America’s 35th most expensive school in a ranking compiled by CampusGrotto on Oct. 18.

Students agree that tuition is too high but acknowledge that the University has a strong financial aid system.

“The tuition is too high, but the financial aid is really good here,” sophomore Jennifer Stevens said. “It is obvious that Wash. U. provides much better quality in facilities and services than cheaper colleges. However, I sometimes don’t see where the tuition goes, especially when I’m sitting in big lecture classes.”

The annual forum where students and administrators discuss the tuition price for the next academic year will take place on Nov. 22.

Steve Givens, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, said that the University will announce the 2011-2012 tuition price in January, and while it is uncertain how much tuition will rise, he said that tuition will increase again next year.

  • Milan Moravec

    Costs are rising for students and the state because of the poor decision making, or lack of decision making, by Chancellors and Deans. Want an example? Read on. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians in Sacramento, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.
    A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.

    It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.

    In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC president, Board of Regents, and California legislators to jolt UC Berkeley back to life, applying some simple check-and-balance management principles. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donators, benefactors and await the transformation.
    The author, who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way the senior management operates.