“Why is college tuition so astronomically expensive these days?”
This question, which opens Jordan Weissman’s recent article in The Atlantic, encompasses a common anxiety faced by many high school seniors as well as current college students as they contemplate their college careers. Why is tuition so expensive—and how do colleges even use the money?
Like most private schools, Carleton’s tuition has risen over the past decade as well. For the 2012-2013 academic year, the comprehensive fee for each Carleton student to attend the college is a whopping $55,000. However, the Vice President and Treasurer’s Office maintains that the high cost of a Carleton education for students is necessary for the college’s close-knit community and excellent academics.
According to Fred Rogers, Carleton’s Vice President and Treasurer, the two largest concerns of Carleton’s Budget Committee’s are: “Can everybody we admit afford to come here?” and “Can we still have outstanding faculty?”
Every January, Carleton’s Budget Committee, which includes faculty and staff and three student representatives, proposes a budget to the College Council, for the coming fiscal year (FY). In February, the College Council then presents the budget to Carleton’s Board of Trustees, which has the final say on the budget.
Carleton’s budget and uses of its expenditures is available to the public, as all its financial statements are published and posted online. According to these reports, in FY 2012, tuition and fees (55%) and room and board (12%) from students accounted for approximately two thirds of Carleton’s revenue for FY 2012. Other sources of revenue included Carleton’s endowment income, which contributed 24%, and gifts and government grants, accounting for 5%.
Information about how this income is allocated is also public. In this fiscal year, salaries (34%) and benefits (11%) accounted for just under half of Carleton’s expenditures. Financial aid, at 20%, and building maintenance, 13%, also figured heavily.
“We work and spend a lot of money on financial aid to make sure we have a diverse student body,” said Rogers.
Other expenses include equipment, books, and supplies; travel for athletics, off campus studies, and conferences; and food service.
The Budget Committee also shows a five-year model to the college’s Board of Trustees. Langer speaks about the importance of financial equilibrium and sustainability to this model. She adds, “We look to make sure we are spending our dollars where we should be…and keeping that academic mission out front.”
Rogers echoes the importance of academic excellence to every step of the budget process, calling Carleton an “expensive but high-quality, rich environment.”
Putting together a budget is a long, intensive project for all involved, including the Investment Office, Facilities Management, Human Resources, and Security Resources. According to Langer, it can be difficult to predict the use of utilities, the need for financial aid, and the enrollment numbers for the coming year. “There are a lot of moving parts,” she says.
Additional factors include the country’s overall economic climate and the college’s plans for change in the future. Rogers recalls the stock market’s large decline four years ago, which lead to cutting revenues and expenses, and he says, “We could have good years; we could have not so good years.”
However, Rogers and Langer are quick to point out the positive results that have emerged from the work of the Budget Committee, College Council, and Board of Trustees every year. “The college is a trendsetter here,” Langer says, comparing Carleton, which has passed a budget on time every year, to the country’s federal government, which often struggles to pass a budget on time.
According to the office’s website, “Carleton’s most valuable asset is not its endowment (important though that is), but rather the academic excellence that draws outstanding students to our campus year after year, in good economic times and bad. Preserving that excellence--and its uniquely Carleton flavor--is the College’s most urgent priority in these challenging economic times.”