The University’s rising tuition costs recently became the focus of a battle of words between The New York Times and Vice President for Finance and Administration Marcia Bromberg. In an article entitled “The Price of Admission is on the Rise,” dated Sept. 26, Bromberg is quoted as saying “the more you charge, the more [people] like it.”
In a letter to the editor printed on Oct. 3, Bromberg maintains that her words were taken out of context.
“[The article] suggested an arrogant disregard to the cost of tuition by me and by Wesleyan University,” Bromberg wrote.“[ I ] have often been part of conversations addressing concerns about the limits of parents’ willingness to pay the increasing cost of private higher education. Despite these concerns, the public appears to be willing to accept these higher costs, which was the point of my comments.”
Regardless of whether Bromberg’s quote accurately portrays her beliefs, the publicity has caused many students and parents to ask two daunting questions—Why is tuition so high? And, is a Wesleyan education really worth the $40,124 annual price tag?
Currently, Wesleyan is the most expensive university or college in Connecticut. It costs over $1,000 more per year than Connecticut College, Yale University or Trinity College.
Director of University Communications Justin Harmon said that journalists often misunderstand the complexity involved in deciding yearly tuition costs.
“College and university costs rise faster than the general rate of inflation,” Harmon said. He explained that if the market inflation rate is two percent, some University costs raise by 15 percent. Costs such as health care for employees, buying rare books and journals for the library, energy and technology run on a more expensive scale than the general costs of living used to calculate the national Consumer Price Index.
Although Bromberg refrained from commenting specifically on the quotation in the Times, she also said that the priorities of deciding to raise tuition are mainly based on rising costs of health care, competitive salaries and financial aid.
“One fourth of the money received through tuition goes back to the student body in the form of financial aid,” Bromberg added.
Harmon also pointed out that Wesleyan needs to pay teachers competitive salaries and that the University’s endowment is comparatively low at $525 million. Yale’s, for example, is $11billion, according to a report on the Yale university website.
Bromberg added that the financial aid budget is increasing faster than tuition and that the University has had more recent success in recruiting students in need of financial assistance. Last year, 46 percent of students received some sort of scholarship.
Since the breakdown of money distribution is so complicated, students and parents are often left wondering where their money is going.
Daisy Holman ’07 said that in terms of classes, the tuition is worth it. However, she did question the high cost of housing and dining options and mentioned that sometimes she thinks the prospective students get more attention that the matriculated ones.
“There are times when I don’t know where my money is going and I feel I’m not getting my money’s worth,” she said.
Arnie Gould, father of Rebecca Gould ’05, considered the costs mostly a function of the overall market.
“Unfortunately, any private school is already in the $30-35,000 range immediately, so it’s a matter of degree as well as whether any school is worth that kind of money,” he said. “In other countries – specifically the Scandinavian ones that I know about, if you are eligible for college as determined by scores in high school and an entrance exam, your higher education is free. That also applies to a more technically oriented school that is the choice of less academically oriented students.”
“That is the most enlightened manner of dealing with higher education, since the future of the country is at stake,” Gould added.
“I planned ahead on college costs, and saved what I thought would be enough to cover four years of tuition, etc. However, even considering investments that may have been decent, Wesleyan’s costs as well as other colleges have far outpaced both inflation and my ability to keep up with their costs,” Gould said. “I don’t even know if their increases are justified. They have gotten themselves a captive audience, without any recourse, except to withdraw from college. If the tuition had been frozen, I could have at least predicted the four year cost and acted appropriately.”
Other students agreed that tuition should be frozen so parents can better plan their finances, but Harmon and Bromberg both said that that is an unrealistic option, citing Williams as a comparable school that tried such a strategy and lost too much money.
John Tabachnick ’75, father of Jeff Tabachnick ’05, recalled that in 1971 the University promised that the tuition would stay the same for all four years.
“I don’t remember if they held to that promise exactly, but it sounded good at the time,” he said.
Despite the criticisms of many students, even at the inflated cost many students feel that they are receiving their money’s worth.
“We have a pretty broad selection of classes,” said Sandra Undis ’05, citing classes within her major, psychology, as well as more unconventional ones like rock climbing, Bharata Natyam and experimental music.
Heather Olins ’05 said that even though she grew up in a family that emphasized the importance of education and saved enough money for her to choose a college independent of tuition cost, she has wondered whether or not she would have been better off at a state school. However, being an earth and environmental sciences major, she has gotten the opportunity to work one-on-one with professors and do valuable research usually reserved for graduate students at other universities.
“I’ve had a very valuable experience academically,” she said. “When I leave Wesleyan I’ll know how to do science, not just learn in a classroom setting.”
She also acknowledged that being a science major allows her more opportunities for such attention from professors than would many of the other majors at Wesleyan.
Gould ’05 said that she felt that the University could do better in terms of offering more classes in areas like sociology and fine arts.
“It depends,” said Tabachnick ’05 of the value of his education. “We’ll see what kind of job I get and then I’ll judge.”