Every day this semester, I am forced to walk by Roberts Pavilion as it approaches completion. The sheer size alone seems to validate my long-standing concerns over whether CMC needs a $50 million gym that would look more appropriate at UCLA instead of, say, a nice $10-15 million facility. Whenever I see this behemoth of a building, I reflect a bit on the fact that, simply put, CMC is an expensive school to attend.
It’s expensive if you’re a low-income student working to pay the fees, deposits, and other expenses that aren’t covered by your financial aid package, and it’s expensive if you come from an upper-class family and are paying the full
$62,215 $65,120. But more importantly, it has become even more expensive in recent years and the trend does not appear to be stopping.
From $29,010 in 2004-2005 to $45,625 in 2013-2014 (the last year for which IPEDS has full data), tuition at CMC has increased $16,615 in 9 years. However, because the value of the US dollar has changed during this time period, I adjusted all the dollar values using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI inflation calculator in order to standardize everything and hopefully make it more understandable. Thus, you can assume that all monetary values I refer to throughout the rest of the article are expressed in 2016 US dollars.
After standardizing all the values, we see that the real increase in CMC’s cost of attendance (tuition + room and board) is closer to $13,000 which, while still a sizable amount, is noticeably less than the unadjusted increase of $21,000. Even though CMC has increased its average financial aid grant at a slightly faster rate than the increase in cost of attendance, seven percent fewer CMC students received financial aid in 2014 than in 2005. The two most likely scenarios seem to be that either CMC is accepting fewer students who qualify for financial aid, or fewer students who are offered financial aid by CMC are choosing to come here. Both of these scenarios pose issues for CMC, but we can start by partly addressing the latter issue by reducing the cost of attendance.
In order to understand the tuition increase, we must examine how CMC’s expense and revenue streams have shifted over the past few years. Between 2005 and 2014, CMC’s total core expenses per student increased by a little over $14,000, driven largely by increased spending on Instruction (19 more professors and higher average salaries) and Auxiliary Enterprises (food, housing, etc.). And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need more professors and support staff as our student body grows and our professors deserve every raise they receive and more. But, as you may have noticed, it appears that the $14,000 in increased spending is almost entirely reflected in the growth in CMC’s cost of attendance. This would be understandable if CMC hadn’t seen a significant increase in its revenues during this time period. But this is not the case.
In 2004-05, CMC received around $90,000 per student. In 2013-14, CMC received more than $150,000 per student. The growth is accounted for by increases in Net Student Revenues (tuition – financial aid), Private Gifts and Grants, and, most significantly, the Investment Return on our endowment. And yet, even as our endowment has bounced back strongly from the recession and CMC’s per student revenues have increased by over $60,000, these benefits haven’t been distributed evenly. It doesn’t appear that they have even reached the CMC student body.
Yet, it seems unfathomable that the CMC Trustees would allow this large gap between revenues and expenses to continue to grow. When I approached the CMC Treasurer’s Office with questions about the unbalanced operating budget, I was notified that the college does have expenses beyond those listed in the core operating budget. These range from increasing the funds for future maintenance of our existing facilities (like the largest free-standing glass structure west of the Mississippi) to financing CMC’s debts (hey there, Kravis Center) to simply adding to our ever-growing endowment ($733 million at last count).
I am not naive enough to argue that all these expenses are unnecessary, because to a certain extent we do need to ensure that we are investing in CMC’s future for all those students who will come through here after us. To do so, however, we must look beyond building new study rooms and athletic facilities. Engaging in the new amenities arms race with other liberal arts colleges may help CMC meet the metrics to improve our U.S. News & World Report rankings and improve our reputation among private college counselors, but it won’t do anything to make CMC more affordable and accessible.
CMC can choose to direct its resources towards constructing new excessive facilities and increasing our endowment, or towards increasing our financial aid packages, offering financial aid to more students, and lowering the cost of attendance at CMC. I encourage the administration and Board of Trustees to focus on the latter, and I hope my fellow students do the same and in the process remind ourselves that leaders in the making don’t only come from families that have prospered through commerce.
*Here’s a link to the spreadsheet with all my data for anyone who’s curious.