c/o Sam Hilton, News Editor, Head Archivist

c/o Sam Hilton, News Editor, Head Archivist

“From the Argives” is a column that explores The Argus’ archives (Argives) and any interesting, topical, poignant, or comical articles that have been published in the past. Given The Argus’ long history on campus and the ever-shifting viewpoints of its student body, the material, subject matter, and perspectives expressed in the archived article may be insensitive or outdated and do not necessarily reflect the current views of The Argus or any of its staff. If you have any questions about the original article or its publication, please contact Head Archivist Sam Hilton at shilton@wesleyan.edu

Exactly forty-five years ago, on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 1977, as President Michael Roth ’78 was settling into his senior year, Martin Saggese ’80 published an article in The Argus entitled “Where Does Your Tuition Dollar Go?” The article breaks down the University’s various operating expenses and revenues for the 1977–78 school year, as well as various other snippets of information about campus life at the time.

“When students are asked to pay $7000 a year for a college education, they begin to ask questions,” Saggese wrote. “Where does the money go?”

Two score and five years later, many students have the same query, with a more substantial sum of money in question. In 1977, yearly tuition to attend Wesleyan University was $4,300, according to Saggese’s article, and the total cost of attendance was roughly $7,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $21,000 in tuition and $34,200 in total costs. For reference, tuition for the 2022-23 school year is $64,022, and the total cost of attendance is $82,202 for first-years and sophomores and $82,928 for juniors and seniors.

So where did the money go, and what becomes of it now? While average class size, the number of faculty members, and inflation-adjusted cost of attendance have all increased considerably since the publication of Saggese’s article, many of the underlying themes that these issues represent have persisted at the University to this day. The incoming class in the fall of 1977 was 612 students, record-breaking by their standards, but laughable when compared to the 919 members of the class of 2025. Even so, increasing class size, troubled staff retention, campus construction, a newly formed union—in the current case, the Wesleyan Union of Student Employees (WesUSE)—and rampant inflation all affected the University then and continue to affect it now. 

Throughout the article, Saggese breaks down exactly where the University receives its revenue, the total amount it pulls in, and what becomes of it once it’s in Wesleyan’s pocketbook. 

“The University will collect $11.2 million in tuition and fees this year, including undergraduate and graduate tuition, and the health and application fees,” Saggese wrote. “This figure represents 67% of the total operating revenues of $16.7 million.”

Adjusted for inflation, this would be about $54.7 million in tuition and fees revenue and $81.6 million in total operating revenue. By comparison, the University had roughly $227 million in operating revenues in the 2020–21 school year (the most recent Annual Finance Report that has been published). Of this, roughly $149 million came from student charges, representing a similar proportion as the 1977–78 year. 

Saggese then moved on to examining how the University’s operating budget was spent.

“The largest category of expenses in the $21.8 million operating budget…is the $5.3 million spent on faculty salaries and fringe benefits,” Saggese wrote. “According to Burton Sonenstein, vice president for planning and operations, the average salary for faculty members last year was $19,500.”

Adjusted for inflation, this comes out to around $95,300 in the current dollar value which, according to recent trends in faculty compensation at the University, is slightly less than the average compensation for tenure-track professors now.

With the University now working on various construction projects, it’s fascinating to look back on this time when major facilities had just recently been built. At the time of this article’s publication, some major pillars of campus life—the High/Low Rise Apartments, Exley Science Center, and the Center for the Arts—were either recently completed or approaching completion.

“An additional $2.4 million from the endowment will be used to pay for debt service and capital projects,” Saggese wrote. “Nearly 90% of this money will go to debt services, as the University has no major building projects at this time. Most of the large debt service expenditure pays for the facilities built in recent years.”

The endowment, Saggese noted, paid for around 23% of operating expenses in 1977–78, comparable to the roughly 20% of operating expenses it paid for in 2020–21.

Saggese also points out that, while the student body size was increasing at this time, the number of faculty was decreasing, posing a problem for the instructor-to-student (I/S) ratio at the University.

“The I/S ratio at Wesleyan has gone from 6.2 in 1970 to 10.7 this year,” Saggese wrote. “If instructional size is reduced to [the goal of] 200 [full-time equivalents] by 1980, the I/S will climb to 12.5.”

The current I/S ratio, according to the University, is 8.1. Additionally, the campus community was feeling the effect of inflation in 1977, as it is today.

“The economic picture for the next few years indicates that the cost of just about everything will continue to rise,” Saggese wrote. “Salaries are sure to go up, and they comprise the largest segment of the University’s expenses.”

Though the University was prepared to raise these salaries, with a rough guideline of 4%, Saggese speculated that this might not be satisfactory to all faculty and staff, especially given ongoing labor disputes.

“The secretarial and clerical workers recently affiliated with a national union,” Saggese wrote. “The secretaries, who many feel are underpaid, have already received the allotted 4% increase for this year, even without a contract. It seems unlikely that the union will settle for what they already have.”

This foreshadows the ongoing contract negotiations between WesUSE and the administration over adequate compensation, better working conditions, and mutual respect between student staff and management. Interestingly, WesUSE and the clerical and secretarial workers unions are both represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 513.

Though life at the University is constantly shifting, and a great amount of upheaval has occurred since this article was published, Saggese writes about issues with striking parallels to our own. It will be interesting to see how our current administrators, trustees, and various abstract committees on high will deal with these variables now, and whether their plan of action will measure up in the steely eye of history.

“Since the University is not planning any further increases in student body size, it seems very possible that tuition hikes will be the main source of increased revenue, at least in the near future,” Saggese wrote.

The University’s total enrollment has increased by over 750 students since 1977, for reference. Given that the size of the student body has increased, against Saggese’s prediction, the question remains as to why tuition has shot up as well. Until we find the answer, we remain steadfastly jealous of Roth, Saggese, and all the students who paid $7,000 for a Wesleyan education.


Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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