By Kellie Dietrich
This article was originally published in Issue 13, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (April 14, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue.
Last month at the March meeting of the Board of Trustees, increases for the 2016-2017 academic year were approved. The most notable change is a raise in tuition from $32,00 to $33,500, a 4.69 percent increase.
Other changes in the budget include room and board options increasing by 2.4 percent, a lower raise than previous years, for an average cost of $12,300, and an increase in the technology fee to $200 per semester. The resident student life fee of $500 per semester will remain the same, which puts the average total cost for next year to $47,200, a 3.84 percent increase.
The process of creating the budget entails many meetings, details and consideration. It starts in October with a meeting of the Budget Advisory Committee, which has representatives from all parts of the university including faculty, staff, a representative from each of the five academic divisions and students (undergraduates, graduates, ACCESS). The undergraduate student who represents the council is the SGA Treasurer.
When considering tuition increase, the committee must look at what’s going on in the marketplace. This is done by benchmarking against DeSales’ higher education environment by looking at schools similar in recruiting, the athletic conference and master’s programs to see what other schools are charging for tuition.
“With the stated goal, which has been our strategic plan for the last two or three [years], we don’t want to be in the high end and we don’t want to be in the low end. We want to be right in the middle, just below the median benchmark,” said Director of Finance and Treasurer Michael Sweetana, who plays one of the largest roles in overseeing the budget process.
The benchmark is done to see how DeSales fits within that stated goal, and then the committee looks at what is going on inside the university, such as costs that need to be covered and future projects. Since the addition of the Upperclassmen Village, the extra infrastructure adds more space that needs to be maintained. Healthcare and liability insurance have also been on the rise due to Hurricane Sandy, snowstorms and other uncontrollable incidents.
The cost of living is increasing for employees as well, which is taken into consideration.
“We’re a very people- intensive business,” said Sweetana. “Salaries and benefits make up 40 percent of our operating costs.”
“We tend to pay our faculty better than a lot of our other competition does because we believe in putting our tuition money back into our program,” he added.
President Rev. Bernard O’Connor, OSFS also highlighted faculty pay in the letters mailed to parents and the e-mail versions sent to students.
“We spent more on faculty salaries than average but kept the total number of employees below average,” the letter read.
Ultimately, tuition costs are either rounded up or down to the nearest $500. The past few years students had the benefit of the tuition spike being rounded down to $1,000, but this year it was rounded up to $1,500.
Although students are seeing a raise in tuition, they probably won’t see one in their financial aid.
“We built two million dollars more of financial aid into our overall budget to cover our financial aid budget,” said Sweetana. “But realistically, once you get past your freshman year, it’s a lot harder to get changes in financial aid just because of how regulations work.”
However, once students enter their junior or senior year, the Federal Loan programs do increase, giving them the ability to borrow more money, so there is some degree of additional aid built into the system. Otherwise, financial aid usually only changes if there is a dramatic change in the family’s financial state.
In his letter, O’Connor also highlighted the value of higher education for students.
“And the truth is that on average the increased lifetime earnings arising from completing a college degree are equivalent to an investment that returns over 15 percent per year,” the letter read. “This is more than double the average return of the stock market over the last 60 years and a greater return than corporate bonds, gold or long-term government bonds. Clearly, the cost of a college degree does pay off.”