by John K. Atsalis | When the bill rivals the mascot in growth.
When the mail arrived in homes of Tufts families worldwide this past July, they were met with an unpleasant surprise: a letter from Deans Abriola, Glaser, and Sternberg. The three deans announced Tufts’ annual increase in tuition for undergraduate education. For the 2008-2009 academic year, the cost to attend Tufts increased by 5.3 percent. This translates into an increase of $2,500 for an education on the Hill. This is the first time the University chose to send a letter out concerning the increase in education. Dean Glaser said that “[the deans] feel that it’s important to be transparent and up front” about tuition increases, especially since news like this is never welcome. While this year’s increase outpaced the last year’s, the cost of a Jumbo education has increased steadily in the past decade.
The cost of attending Tufts in the 2005-2006 school year was just under $40,000. A paltry four years later, Tufts now costs a decidedly not-paltry sum that is just under $50,000. A 2004 article in the Tufts Daily foretold costs of $62,100 to attend Tufts in 2015, a mark that was far off at the time. With these past four years as a guide, that tuition will be closer to $70,000. The class of 2009 once paid just under $40,000 when they were freshman. If this trend continues, the class of 2012 will pay just under $60,000 when they graduate.
Misery loves company and so do tuition bills. Several Boston-area colleges have kept pace with Tufts’
increases, but Tufts and Boston College remain the most costly. Harvard College has reined in its tuition increases and substantially increased financial aid due to legislative pressure, but that is among the many benefits that accompany the largest endowment in the world. “The most expensive school in Boston” is certainly not a superlative Tufts students want attached to their institution, and Tufts administrators should agree. There are several options the administration should pursue in the future when increasing tuition.
Tufts must consider a lock-in rate for tuition. A student’s senior bill should not be $10,000 more than their freshman bill. Not only does that outpace inflation, it eats away at his family’s resources. Perhaps the lock-in rate could be tied to a student’s GPA. A 3.0 would activate the lock-in, while a 3.5 would incur a better rate. This would offer an incentive for better scholarship and allow all students the chance at tuition-relief, as $2,500 is still an expense for even the wealthy. In addition, prospective middle-class students will feel more confident in their ability to pay for four years of Tufts education.
The administration must strive to use our endowment to stem rising tuition costs. Our endowment may have been 600 million dollars in 2004, but it has more than doubled to $1.5 billion. In the meantime, tuition increased 4.5 percent in 2005, 7 percent in 2006, 4.1 percent in 2007, and 5.3 percent in 2008. Some of the funds in the endowment may be earmarked or tied to specific aims, but it is tough to see how the administration could not find a way to avoid this increase. After all, numerous Tufts Daily articles quote a high rate of return on the investments—in the neighborhood of 9 percent. While the economic slowdown may have stunted this growth, an 8% return on our endowment nets $12 million, the same amount Tufts nets by collecting an additional $2,500 from every student.
Lastly, Tufts must be pennywise with our money. Episodes such as last year’s brazen embezzlement of over $300 thousand by the Office of Student Activities Director Jodie Nealley, as well as $600 thousand by OSA’s fiscal coordinator Raymond Rodriguez must not be repeated. Students and parents will find it hard to accept the administration’s justifications for increased costs while its employees nearly waltzed away with almost $1 million. It gives the appearance that the school has too much money on its hands to keep track of it all, which should be the last image the University wants. Fiscal accountability and greater transparency concerning the endowment and other University finances would be welcome. Undergraduate education is only a piece of the puzzle that is the budget of a large institution like Tufts University. We deserve a larger picture beyond our bills. Tufts students must hold the Deans to their promise “to spend the university’s resources carefully and wisely” in the coming years.
What is also concerning is the administration’s attitude towards tuition costs. In 2004, the Daily quoted Admissions Director Lee Coffin with the following: “Obviously, the wealthy don’t need to worry too much about this tuition. And the very underprivileged [those whose families that make $50,000 or less each year] enjoy large financial aid packages. Ultimately, the middle class students and their families need to make a decision.” He was also attributed with, “While of course $40,000 is a zone of expensiveness that would hurt many people, so many still see the value of a good education.” One wonders what he thinks now, as Tufts tuition enters the $50,000 zone, and at what income he thinks a family is “wealthy” enough to not “worry too much” about an expense like that.
Mr. Atsalis is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major.