University News

Robust forum addresses tuition, budget concerns

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 10, 2011

The University’s budgeting process is about making choices, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 at yesterday’s University Resources Committee forum.

The forum, which was held in Smith-Buonanno Hall, attracted about 60 people, more than half of whom were students. The forum’s purpose was to gather community input on next fiscal year’s budgetary priorities. Schlissel also outlined how the University has allocated spending in this fiscal year’s budget.

This year’s forum attracted far more attendees than last year’s budget forum, which only had one student in attendance.

Schlissel, who chairs the URC, said that while University revenue and expenditures have both increased significantly over the past decade, the proportion of dollars coming from each revenue source has not significantly changed. He also said while Brown has steadily increased its tuition rate, it has not done so to the same degree as many “Ivy plus” peer institutions.

Schlissel added that Brown’s endowment is not yet able to cover as much of its operating costs as the endowments at institutions such as Harvard and Princeton, leaving the University more dependent on tuition.

At the forum, Evan Schwartz ’13, a URC student representative, said there is no conclusion about how much tuition is going to be raised in the next fiscal year budget, and added that he is trying to gauge whether students would be willing to see tuition rise to fund new and existing programs.

Though Schlissel said tuition will likely increase in the next budget,  he did not specify how much it would rise.

“I can tell you I’d be very surprised if tuition didn’t go up, but I’d also be surprised if tuition went up drastically,” he said.

Several students in the audience expressed concern over the lack of attention to other areas on the list of revenue sources presented during the forum and questioned whether tuition is considered after other aspects of the budget are determined.

Schlissel responded by saying tuition is always the “elephant in the room” in discussions involving the allocation of University resources and sources of revenue. Dick Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, expressed similar sentiments.

“The process is designed to make sure we don’t make any judgments about what should or shouldn’t be done until we’ve gone through the entire list,” Spies said.

Jason Lee ’12, chair of the Undergraduate Finance Board, mentioned his support for a 40 percent increase in the student activities fee, which currently stands at $170 and is a mandated fee included in the full tuition price.

Lee said student groups currently only receive about 40 to 50 percent of the funding they request and that the higher fee could allow them to receive 80 to 90 percent. He said when groups ask for funding from UFB, the groups are accustomed to under-requesting funding. As a result, the increase in funding allocated to the groups would still not necessarily fulfill their budget needs.

Most students in attendance agreed that student groups on campus are underfunded.

Besides tuition increases, the other budgetary issue raised by audience members was low staffing, especially in the wake of the layoffs resulting from the economic downturn. One audience member expressed concern over what she said was the University’s insensitive approach to laying off workers during the crisis, while another expressed his desire for more staff to support research.

Schlissel said the University would like to hire more staff as the economy begins to recover, but he cautioned against a significant uptick in hiring before it is clear whether staff will be able to be retained in the coming years.

“The worst thing would be to ramp back up again and then have to lay people off again,” he said.

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