Tuition’s Effect on the Diversity of the Student Body

I sat down to write an opinion piece on St.  Mary’s tuition, and after many hours of Facebook, a few days of fall break, and (too many) re-runs of Reba, I realized I wasn’t sure what my opinion was.

I know what I pay to attend St.  Mary’s, and I have a relative idea of what other people pay depending on what state they’re from or possible scholarships that they could have received.  Obviously these can differ a great deal, and in general, there is no lack of demographic groups on campus that I think I could point to. I guess my question was: Since we have a strongly diverse student body, why do our tuition rates matter?

As a sophomore, I have only been on campus for one round of tuition increases. Last year, I remember feeling indignant when I first heard that tuition might increase at St. Mary’s. I had worked so hard to come here—I had filled out countless scholarship applications (and received a few), kept my grades high before and during college (with the exception of any math grades), and became involved in organizations and causes that I cared about. All of my hard work paid off when I received a merit-based scholarship from St.  Mary’s, which is conditional on my performance at St. Mary’s.

Yet, last year tuition rose (by 6%). Housing costs rose for all students, and student fees were increased.  It’s important to remember that while St.  Mary’s is a public school, and should be accessible to any student, St. Mary’s must have a relatively high tuition in order to offer us an education that is similar to other small private liberal arts colleges. So in terms of St. Mary’s tuition revenues, we should recognize that St.  Mary’s does try to do more for us with less than a private school budget.

However, tuition rates for all students, both instate and out of state, affect what kinds of students will be able to afford a St.  Mary’s education. If we want St.  Mary’s to be a diverse community, our tuition and our financial aid need to reflect that goal. Excessively high tuition will alienate students who may feel like they are unable to attend St. Mary’s.

In conjunction with higher tuition, the types of financial aid that are provided to students by St. Mary’s will dictate what kinds of students want to call St.  Mary’s their home. President Urgo has discussed a move towards more need-based aid for students and away from merit-based awards.

However attractive need-based aid may be for students who need it, St. Mary’s needs to provide merit-based aid, too.Merit-based aid encourages hard-working, involved students to join our college, regardless of their financial situation.

A merit-based award shows a student that their academic, extracurricular, and service efforts are valued and desired at St. Mary’s. To some students, like myself, merit-based aid makes up the difference between attending St. Mary’s or another cheaper instate school.

To maintain a student body that is as involved as it is diverse, merit-based aid needs to remain a feature at St .Mary’s. What kind of honors college would we be if we didn’t reward students for all of the hard work that they do?

To answer my own question: tuition rates matter because they will affect the make-up of our student body. We need stable, relatively affordable tuition as well as both need-based and merit-based financial aid. If we are unable to attract hardworking and diverse students to St. Mary’s, as a college we risk losing the active, crazy, intelligent, quirky, and diverse student body that makes us who we are.

St. Mary’s College of MD is a Pretty Awesome Place

The recent 7% hike in tuition prices has left many St. Mary’s students and potential students questioning whether they should shove out $25,360 for in-state tuition, and has every out-of-state student second guessing the $37,437 price tag that comes with a liberal arts education at a small, public, honors college. St. Mary’s is a small school with a big price tag. With the start of another school year many incoming students may be questioning whether they made the right choice to come to this school. While returning students are cringing at the price tag and the ever amounting debt they will soon face, most of us have come to realize that a college education from St. Mary’s is worth the ever-growing cost.

The Washington Post recently rated St. Mary’s as the fourth most expensive public college in the United States. Yes, $25,360 is a ridiculous amount for a public, instate college, and $37,437 is an even more ridiculous amount of money for a college that has only about 2,000 students (which is a generous approximation) but those of you who are reconsidering your choice should consider the price of doing business. Not only does your tuition cover class fee’s, housing, meal plan, etc. That money goes towards retaining all of the facilities and benefits that students enjoy, one of those being the amazing waterfront most of us list as out favorite part of St. Mary’s.

If the waterfront access is not enough to convince you that you made the right choice in coming to this college then look at the community you have been accepted into. Besides the waterfront, one of the main things that draws faculty, staff, and students to this school is the warm and welcoming St. Mary’s community. For those of us who have been here for a few years, we know that the sense of connectedness is not just a myth written on the admissions website. People really do have bonfires at The Point and someone will inevitably bring a guitar and a majority of the campus will show up, take their shoes off and relax. This sets us apart from other schools were you fall into a clique, sorority, fraternity, or you just become a number. It may seem like a drawback but the fact that there are less than 2,000 students at this school makes it really easy to form a bond with your fellow classmates.

Even if you aren’t really into the whole Bonfire at The Point thing than you find that you will soon be going to campus events and meeting people in various clubs, sports, and classes that you somehow know. The joke here besides doing something stupid and yelling “Honor’s College,” is that St. Mary’s is so small that everyone knows everyone else. You soon learn that it is weird when you meet someone and realize you have never before seen them on campus. As corny as it sounds, when you come to St. Mary’s you come to a community that is ready to accept you.

If all of this waterfront/community stuff doesn’t make you want to love St. Mary’s despite the exuberant price then look at the facts of what you get despite the small size. St. Mary’s students have every advantage that students who go to larger school have, in my opinion we have even more perks. We can boast the highest graduation rate of any public college in Maryland, we have a 90% retention rate, 66% of alumni seeking employment find jobs 4 months after graduation, more than 60% of alumni attend professional or graduate schools, and 92% of our students are accepted into medical school. All of this information comes courtesy of the Admissions Office.

St. Mary’s also has some of the best professors, with 98% of them holding doctorate degrees and some Fulbright Scholars. These people are not only teaching you but they become mentors and friends during your four years at the College. So for your money you are getting taught by the best and brightest who happen to be people who are warm-hearted, love teaching, and generally care for their students. This is something that is difficult to find in even the smallest colleges in the nations, but something that comes in handy in multiple situations.

So basically I say that if you are fortuante to be able to afford St. Mary’s than take every opportunity that the college has to offer you. As I am sure many of my fellow students will attest, this place offers a great education and is a wonderful place to spend four years of your life.

Why We Go To College

The American collegiate student is under attack.  In a March 4 op-ed article titled, “College the Easy Way,” New York Times writer Bob Herbert asked the question “What are America’s kids actually learning in college?” His answer, “not much.”

He notes a new book entitled  Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Professor Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roska of University of Virginia. According to this book courses are getting easier and students are partying more with skills such as critical thinking and reasoning playing the victim.

Blame is ubiquitous. “Kids are lazy these days,” reads one comment in the highlights section of Herbert’s article.  Another blames, “the high schools, the parents, those obstinate republicans.” Poland according to Jacek from Lower Silesia, Poland, “gives math tests to seventh graders that high school teachers, never mind students cannot solve.”

Don’t forget those “Cadillac football stars,” reads another.  “We live in a society of glorified nitwits,” says furnmtz of Oregon. Feeling good about yourself yet? These days it is not enough to attend college or get good grades.

In other news, the school’s Board of Trustees just voted to raise the tuition rate for St. Mary’s College by 6 percent, meaning the cost of in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition will now be many more thousands of dollars.

You may wonder where all that money is going; surely with annual raises in tuition that money is going to be spent on the best educators and facilities for education, maybe even more money to spend on printing stuff or at least modernizing St. Mary’s College so students do not need to print so much stuff.

Removing piles of dirt or paying for more administration staff seem to be the last things anyone would guess, especially since the school is now outsourcing more services like transcript requests.

However, that is not the point I am trying to reach. More precisely, as these books/articles/comments all point to is one question: what is the point of college?

College, most people believe, is about learning stuff; however, they find out sooner or later that College is not about learning stuff but rather about spending money to get stuff.

Those Cadillac driving football stars?  You could be driving one of those Cadillacs, a new one, twice a year, for four years; Lil’ Wayne doesn’t even have that many.

So what is college? College is Cadillacs; it’s something you buy. Imagine you go to college for one year and you flunk out.  You’ve test driven the Cadillac and crashed it into a tree, now you have nothing but a handful of junk and a boatload less money.

So why do schools go easy on kids these days?  Because they realize that a college degree is a good, just like a Cadillac.  Consumers (us) today in America do not “go to college.” Instead we “pay for college,” and there is a difference.

Academic standards, the pursuit of knowledge; that was what college once was about.  Now higher learning has been replaced by the Leviathan of consumer culture. You pay a price and expect something in return; a college degree.

Colleges realize that there is incentive behind producing graduates. Flunking a bunch of people means they stop paying and less people show up to pay for a degree they are less certain to obtain, although they are paying an exorbitant sum of money.

College is a massive risk, more so than Las Vegas. Each year you are betting away your house, your future, for something that you do not know if you will be awarded.

So how do you get people to keep paying? Minimize the risk and let potential students know, if you attend our college, you will graduate with a degree in hand. As a result, academic standards and academic freedom go down.

Students are less curious and less passionate about learning when they know that the price of failure is equal to thousands of dollars of debt.

Herbert, book authors, and  commentators cite outcomes. Kids are studying less, and still getting degrees. Why? Do not look to the students, or the professors, or even the college loan institutions which have received so much bad press.

Look to the colleges who charge so much for school, thousands of dollars, fortunes to most people, and in turn provide college degrees that do not have a strong base in achievement.

So the Board recently voted for an increase in tuition of 6 percent. I would encourage them, if their goal is to produce academically talented and successful students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland to not raise that rate.

Rather they should cut it, so that students who come here and the parents that send them here will not feel the risk of failure – leaving the College much more leeway in determining the standards by which students should abide.

So often we are told to go ahead and fail, because failure is a learning experience and in the long run we will be more creative, more intelligent and more clever.  However, to most students going to college these days, the cost of failure far outweighs the benefit.


Tuition Likely To Increase In Spring

With the continuation of tough financial times and the related difficulties of budget planning, St. Mary’s College tuition is most likely to increase once again this semester. How much of an increase, however, is currently up in the air.

Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman laid out the current budget concerns, the many factors going into the rising cost of the College’s operation, and potential solutions (including tuition increase) in his presentation to concerned members of the campus community Friday entitled Sustainability of the College’s Financial Model.

In this presentation, Botzman first outlined how the St. Mary’s budget works. He said that the budget is divided between the operating budget, which is what the College uses for day-to-day operations, the capital budget, which is used for building projects and maintenance, and the St. Marys College of Maryland Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which handles the College’s endowment portfolio (money which is donated to the College to be used as investment capital).

The operating budget of the College is, according to Botzman, around $69 million.

Botzman noted that the College’s revenue comes from four sources: tuition and fees (44 percent); auxiliary services, including the book store and money paid for housing (27 percent); a state block grant based on the cost of living (27 percent); and other sources (22 percent).

Botzman also outlined the primary reasons that the College is in a difficult financial situation. The biggest one, and the one from which many of the others stem, is the current economic recession. Botzman asserted that the past two years “[were] the most difficult budgeting years since the Great Depression.”

This difficult economy has in turn led to a substantial decrease in the amount of money coming from investments made with endowment money, even fixed investments. According to Botzman, case transfer from the Foundation to the College (disregarding money for facilities) went from a high in fiscal year (FY) 2006 of $1.8 million to only $400,000 in FY 2010.

Vice President for Development Maureen Silva, who gave a presentation entitled Trends in Board Fundraising before Botzman’s, said that there was a loss of around $2 million in the endowment during 2008 and 2009, but that it had been recovered for the most part this year and that it was relatively, “not a dramatic decline, and certainly not as dramatic as other institutions.”

Another major problem facing the College is the ballooning cost of health care, for current, and especially retired, faculty. Botzman said that heath insurance costs for the College will increase by $427,000 next year. In contrast, the increase in the College’s state block grant is expected to only be around $280 thousand.

According to Botzman, it would take a three percent increase in tuition next year just to cover health insurance and retiree health benefits.

Other challenges for the College include the meal plans, upon which all profits or loss are taken by the College and a drop in revenue from the book store.

Botzman also discussed how increases in tuition would affect the College. A one percent increase would amount to a $1.2 million deficit and a $200,000 increase in revenue, with each percentage point increasing revenue (and therefore decrease deficit) by around $200,000.

Botzman then outlined three possible scenarios: an increase in tuition by three, six, and nine percent.

A three or six percent increase would still require the College to freeze faculty lines and reduce transfer to the Physical Plant budget, though the nine percent increase would allow an increase to financial aid and would allow the College to restore two eliminated faculty positions.

However, Botzman said he realizes any increase in tuition will increase student strain and decrease diversity on campus.

The College is also in the process of attempting to boost fundraising in order to lessen the need for tuition increase and make the College more stable in the tough economy. In her presentation, Silva emphasized reaching out to alumni and friends of the College, and was optimistic about efforts on this front.

She said, “we’ve more than doubled what was raised last fall… there are a lot of alumni excited about [President Joseph Urgo] and the way the College is heading.” She also said she was confident that she could significantly increase alumni giving through outreach, and planning for a new fund-raising campaign will begin in 2011.

Another possibility for helping the College’s finances would be to reapply for the yearly state block grant, which was last set in 1992 and not tied to the number of students currently enrolled. Since 1992, the College has added around 400 on-campus students.

Botzman said, however, that this possibility was difficult to justify unless the College were to go on a growth campaign, which there are no plans of doing.

Considering that the state has just announced a $1.6 billion deficit that needs to be fixed this year, Botzman said this was an unlikely solution for the short-term. He did say, however, that “the Governor has been really supportive of the College.”

Botzman said that the final tuition increase will most likely be announced in February, at the next Board of Trustees meeting and after the Governor’s budget comes out the following month.
Despite the difficulties of the budget, Botzman remained optimistic.

“The President and Board of Trustees are committed to keeping the quality of academic and residence programs while keeping the cost of the College affordable for students and there families. That’s always the balance.”