University News

Relying on tuition, struggling to compete

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brook Achterhof ’14 wants to graduate early — not because she wants to be done with school, but because she does not think her family can pay for eight semesters of tuition.

Her father is disabled, so her family relies on Social Security for all its income, she said.

“It’s literally impossible for my parents to work harder to help me through school,” she said.

Last year, the University reduced her financial aid package — a decision she challenged without success. Now, though she wants to graduate in seven semesters, she does not know if she can. The decision would require her to meet several academic distribution requirements and find a compelling academic reason to leave the school, which would significantly alter her undergraduate experience.

“It completely changes Brown,” she said.

Multiple University administrators have recently expressed worry that increases in tuition — especially in light of the current economic climate — could create a less heterogeneous student body.

Because the University is tuition-dependent — more so than any of its peers — raising tuition is one of the only feasible ways for it to maintain its academic and infrastructural capabilities, said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration.

Compared to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, a smaller portion of the University’s budget comes out of its endowment — only about 20 percent, compared to over 30 percent at Harvard and around 50 percent at Yale and Princeton. The relatively smaller endowment affords less flexibility with the size of tuition, which makes up about 32 percent of Brown’s budget.

The impact of increased tuition, which rose 2.9 percent in 2009, 4.5 percent in 2010 and another 3.5 percent last spring, is something the University is “always worried about,” Huidekoper said.

Both Huidekoper and Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said they expect tuition to rise again this year, though a figure has not yet been decided.

“Everyone is fully conscious of economic constraints,” Huidekoper said.

Both expressed worries that consistently raising tuition could affect middle-class students — for whom, even with financial aid, increased tuition can make it so “college becomes a stretch,” Schlissel said.

And though the University looks to bolster its endowment — by investing effectively and soliciting donations — Huidekoper said dramatic endowment growth “doesn’t happen overnight.”

“We have got to find some other sources of revenue,” she added. “Otherwise, we’re going to have to start cutting programs.”

Achterhof said she understands the University needs tuition to function but that increases in tuition should be better balanced with financial aid. “Don’t say you’re a need-blind school and you’ll take all students if you don’t,” she said. “I love Brown, but I hate an institution that puts out a statement it can’t uphold.”

Huidekoper said if tuition were not increased, the gap in revenue could result in reduced salary increases for faculty and delays in infrastructural development. Schlissel said the University would likely not be able to hire new faculty.

Eventually, he said, the University could start losing faculty. “Brown would stop being Brown,” he said.

Though financial aid always increases alongside tuition, Schlissel acknowledged the rise may not be enough to keep college easily affordable.

“Brown’s financial aid packages aren’t as generous (as our peers’),” he said. The inclusion of student loans may render Brown’s packages less attractive than those from schools like Princeton that have moved to loan-free aid, he said.

The University will try to reduce the amount of loans students must take out, but there are no plans for the University to become loan-free, Huidekoper said.

In addition to being the most tuition-dependent school among its peers — 12 schools identified by the University including Stanford, MIT and the other Ivy League institutions — Brown also has a higher concentration of undergraduates. Consequently, the University is not just tuition-dependent — it is specifically undergraduate tuition-dependent, Huidekoper said.

Despite increasing at a lower rate than tuition at Harvard and Yale, tuition at Brown is higher than at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and MIT. The most expensive school listed among Brown’s peers is Columbia, whose tuition increased by 4.5 percent last year.

Huidekoper, who previously worked at Harvard, said Brown is “very productive” with the resources it has, despite it having significantly less money than any of its peers.

And though endowment-heavy schools may suffer at the hands of the stock market, both Schlissel and Huidekoper said they would prefer it if Brown were more endowment-dependent. “We’re always attempting to grow the size of our endowment,” Schlissel said.

President Ruth Simmons has also publicly expressed interest in the matter, asking at the last faculty meeting if faculty members were concerned that rising tuition could be detrimental to the makeup of the student body.

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