Campusgrotto.com, a website billing itself as “the inside source at college,” has ranked Wesleyan University as the 13th most expensive school in America in terms of total cost. When considering tuition alone, the University drops to the rank of 19th most expensive.
CNN also included Wesleyan in their list of most expensive American universities, giving the University the number ten rank. CNN based their ranking solely on tuition, which they listed as $38,934, citing the Chronicle of Higher Education and the College Board as its sources. The University’s financial aid webpage lists tuition as $38,364, the same price cited by Campus Grotto.
According to Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts, the importance of such ratings is a matter of opinion.
“They don’t matter all that much in my view,” said Meerts, “Ratings tend to obscure the more nuanced views that help clarify what is really going on.”
Campus Grotto calculated the rankings by combining tuition, which the University has set at $38,364 for the 2008-2009 academic year, with room and board, which Campus Grotto cited as $10,636, yielding a total cost of $49,000 to attend the University.
According to Meerts, the actual yearly cost per student is around $60,000, and the University therefore must contribute between $15,000 and $20,000 to the education of each student.
“We provide an equal or—one could argue—better education,” Meerts said. “Because of its smaller endowment, Wesleyan has to charge the going market rate for a top liberal arts institution if it wants to remain competitive and be able to offer financial aid to those who need it.”
According to the administration, it is important to realize that that many students who enroll in the University do not pay the full price of $49,000.
“The question shouldn’t be ’what does Wesleyan cost?’ but rather ’what will Wesleyan cost me?’” wrote Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn in an email. “And most students won’t know the answer to that question until they get their financial aid package.”
The University has a need-blind admission policy, which means that the Office of Admission lets students in without knowledge of their financial need. Admitted students are also offered need-based financial aid, with the University paying the full demonstrated need of any admitted student—an offer not made by some other schools. According to Meislahn, about 60 percent of the applicants to the University apply for financial aid.
Financial Aid is an important factor in many students’ decisions regarding where to attend college.
“Wesleyan gave me a lot of money so I’m okay with it being ridiculously expensive,” said Rachel Fifer, ’12. “But I do think it’s ridiculous for any school to be this expensive since so many people aren’t able to come here simply because it’s so much money.”
Reductions in tuition would imply reductions in academic spending, something many do not approve of, Meerts claimed.
“I think most would agree that providing the best education is our first objective and cutting tuition would lead to a decline in the education we offer, or [having] to abandon policies such as need-blind admission,” he said. “Most members of the Wesleyan community would question such a move.”
According to the 2007-2008 Financial Report, the University uses tuition and student fees for 57 percent of revenue spending—a far higher number than many peer institutions. The next largest source of revenue is endowment spending, at 18 percent.
Many of the schools on Campus Grotto’s list are fellow small, selective liberal arts colleges that are often considered competitors of the University. These schools often boast low student-to-teacher ratios as well as competitive academics and facilities.
Topping the list for highest total cost is Sarah Lawrence College, at $53,166. For the highest tuition, Bates College takes the number one spot with tuition set at $43,950.
According to the University’s most recent Financial Report, in comparison to peer institutions, less money is spent on support activities, such as student services and auxiliary expenditures, while more funds are directed toward academic priorities.
With the current economic recession, financial administrators are trying to anticipate how the University’s budget will change in years to come, and how these changes might affect tuition.
“Wesleyan will be making careful choices related to financial management in light of current fiscal realities,” Meerts stated in the 2007-2008 Financial Report. “All these actions will be accomplished with the understanding that we must do our best to protect the teaching, research and the student experience from the impact of our cost cutting measures.”