5Cs Grapple with Rising Tuitions

As tuition, room, and board at the 5Cs continue to become more expensive, administrators see no near end to the climbing costs of higher education.

Across the nation, the cost of attending many private colleges and universities is increasing faster than inflation, including at the 5Cs. At Pomona College, which historically has the lowest sticker price of the 5Cs, tuition, room, and board are increasing by 4.94 percent to $57,680 for the next school year. At Harvey Mudd College, the priciest of the schools, the cost of attending will be $63,860 next year, a 4.7 percent increase.

Pomona President David Oxtoby said that it is no surprise that the cost of attending college is rising faster than the cost of living, since many costs associated with running a college—including paying professors and providing employee benefits—rise faster than those for other materials and services.

However, he said, “The fact that there’s such a gap is worrisome.”

“At Pomona, we’re fortunate to be able to maintain financial aid policies which are very generous, but for other places, it’s at the risk of shutting other people out of higher education because they can’t afford it,” he said.

“We certainly worry about the lower-income students for whom the higher sticker price [at Pomona] has no effect,” he added. “If the tuition goes up a certain amount, the financial aid goes up by the same amount, and so it has no impact directly, but we worry that they don’t understand that, so students might not choose to apply because they think it’s too expensive.”

HMC President Maria Klawe agreed with this assessment.

“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 in an interview last month.

Oxtoby also said that rising costs are concerning for middle-class families, who may not qualify for as much financial aid.

“Obviously there’s a worry of the people who are in that intermediate range ... for whom this really is a tough choice, and there are cheaper education options open to them even if they’re not as good,” he said.

Still, Oxtoby and Karen Sisson, Vice President and Treasurer at Pomona, are not concerned that rising costs will greatly affect demand among prospective students.

“I think when you look at schools like you have at the Claremont Colleges, you know, selective colleges that are highly ranked on a number of different surveys, that there’s always going to be demand for this type of education,” Sisson said. “I haven’t heard of any of the [5Cs] having any issues with not having enough applicants.”

Sisson and Oxtoby expect the cost of attending Pomona to continue to rise, as it has at other schools, although they said it is hard to predict by how much it will increase.

“We are now looking very closely at where we are relative to our peers, and we are sort of using that as a guide,” Sisson said.

Among schools similar to Pomona, such as Williams College and Carleton College, Sisson said that Pomona typically has been the least expensive.

She added that Pomona would not want to be a lot more expensive than these schools, but at the same time, if it were a lot cheaper than the rest of them, it would mean the school was missing out on extra revenue it could be using to improve itself.

Klawe said that HMC would like to keep the year-to-year tuition increase under five percent and eventually get it to 3.5 percent.

Administrators mentioned a variety of ways they are looking to keep costs down.

Sisson said that the college carefully considers adding expenses, such as new academic or co-curricular programs. Oxtoby explained that using money from fundraising—instead of increasing the budget and raising tuition—has become crucial for covering new costs like these.

“In the old days, we did more of that; we just said, ‘Let’s just increase the budget for such and such, because it’s a good thing to do’ ... Now we have to say, do we have the funding?”

He said that the college is trying to keep expense growth within three to four percent over the next few years.

Oxtoby and Klawe both spoke about how the colleges can pool resources to save money.

Oxtoby said, “The last several years, we’ve been focusing a lot on Claremont Colleges together and ways in which Pomona can take advantage of the consortium. It’s something the other colleges have done much more effectively, frankly ... Pomona’s been a little more, ‘We need to do everything ourselves.’”

For example, he said, if a Pomona faculty member goes on leave, the college does not necessarily need to replace the course if students can take it at one of the other colleges.

Oxtoby said that other ideas include coordinating disability services, and Klawe mentioned consolidating IT expenditures.