5Cs Prepare for Tuition Hikes

The cost of attending Harvey Mudd College is set to rise by 4.7 percent for the 2013-2014 school year, and, although the other colleges have not finalized their numbers, tuition, room and board, and fees are expected to increase at the rest of the 5Cs as well. The presidents of the colleges identify rising costs as a main reason for the increases. 

President of Pitzer College Laura Trombley and President of Pomona College David Oxtoby each said they expect tuition to rise for their respective schools next year, although tuition for each school will be finalized later this month. Marylou Ferry, Vice President for Communication and Marketing at Scripps College, wrote in an e-mail to TSL the tuition for Scripps will be finalized at a board meeting March 10.

The administration at Claremont McKenna College was unavailable for comment.  

Last year, tuition increased by 4.7 percent at HMC, two percent at Pitzer, 3.5 percent at Pomona, and four percent at Scripps. According to a CNN article, tuition and fees increased by an average of 4.2 percent at four-year private schools last year. 

Tuition at most of the 5Cs rose faster than last year’s inflation rate of two percent. 

“I think it’s because the costs associated with running colleges and universities actually have been going up faster than the cost of living,” HMC President Maria Klawe said. 

This includes increasing costs for technology and faculty salaries, she said. 

“Over the last 30 years or so, there’s been a much higher correlation between salaries and the amount of education you have,” she said. “Because faculty members all have Ph.D.s and they’re all at the top of their discipline, faculty salaries have increased much faster than the cost of living.”

Oxtoby described a similar pattern at Pomona. 

“The biggest driver of costs is salaries: hiring the very best faculty and staff and making sure their compensation is highly competitive,” he wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “These costs rise each year. Among the costs that rise faster than average are benefits (especially medical benefits) and technology.”

Another reason why tuition increases faster than the cost of living is added costs, Klawe said. 

“We constantly try to improve what we actually offer as education,” she said. “We pride ourselves on trying to offer the best undergraduate science and engineering on the face of the earth, as well as excellent humanities, social studies, and the arts, and it’s expensive.” 

For example, she said, added costs at HMC have covered tutoring services and new faculty members hired to strengthen the college’s core curriculum. 

In an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Thomas Epsenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, suggested that one of the reasons for the increase in tuition is a rankings “arms race” causing colleges to raise costs to compete with each other. 

Klawe disagreed. 

“That’s not us,” she said. Mentioning the construction project currently underway at HMC, she said, “We certainly didn’t do it to compete with anyone else; we did it because we think our students and faculty deserve highly functional and beautiful and inspirational learning spaces.” 

“There certainly are colleges that are having difficulties recruiting enough students who have tried to put in things that make their college more attractive, and some of those things do drive up tuition,” she added. “But none of the 5Cs have difficulties in attracting enough applicants who are really high-quality applicants, so I don’t think that rankings have driven up tuition here.” 

As tuition rises, HMC, Pitzer, and Pomona plan to offer more financial aid to students in need. 

Oxtoby wrote, “In order to maintain our generous financial aid policies, we anticipate that financial aid will rise at a greater rate than tuition, as it has consistently in the past.” 

“We worry about the cost of tuition, but frankly I worry even more about making financial aid available to the people who need it,” Klawe said. 

“If a family’s bringing in a million dollars a year, I really don’t care how much I charge them for tuition,” she said. “I know that if a family’s earning $40,000 a year, probably that student’s going to get basically a free ride, but if a family’s earning $100,000 a year and has some home equity, they might be paying $25,000 or $30,000 a year, and that’s a very large part of their income.” 

However, Klawe worries that despite increases in financial aid, tuition still discourages students from applying. 

“I think it discourages applications, unfortunately, from lower-income families, because I think often lower-income families don’t understand financial aid, that it might well be affordable for them,” she said.

Oxtoby wrote that tuition at Pomona, as at other institutions, is expected to keep rising. 

“As long as there is inflation in costs and expenses, there is no way that tuition could be held under some fixed amount,” he wrote. 

Trombley agreed, but said Pitzer is trying to control costs as much as possible. Oxtoby wrote that Pomona is also looking to keep costs down. 

“One goal continues to be to take better advantage of the economies of scale through the Claremont Colleges consortium,” he wrote. 

One way to do so, he wrote, would be for the colleges to coordinate disability services. 

Klawe added, “We’re probably going to have a consultant come in and take a look at our IT expenditures across the colleges, because there are a number of examples where each college does the same thing but does it separately where it might be a lot easier to consolidate.” 

She said one goal for HMC is to keep the year-to-year tuition increase under five percent and eventually get it to 3.5 percent—equal to cost-of-living increases. To do so, she said, "we’re trying to just be really careful about spending money in ways that are smart.” 

Klawe said the college is looking to cut housekeeping, photography, and consulting expenses, among others. 

However, she emphasized that she does not want to cut costs in ways that will affect the level of education at the school. 

Trombley agreed that she did not want to cut costs in ways that detract from the level of education at Pitzer.

“I think the critics of expenses in higher education would and have been arguing that institutions need to be doing more with less,” she said. “However, institutions have been doing more with less for the last 20 years.”