Investigative News: University cost increases by 3.9 percent to $67,136 for the 2017-18 academic year

Kathryn Nicolai, Investigative News Editor

The University’s new enrollment cost of $67,136 for the 2017-18 academic year was announced in a letter sent to University students’ families this past February. The new cost is a comprehensive fee that includes tuition, the student government fee, and standard room and board. The $67,136 price is a 3.9 percent increase from the past academic year’s comprehensive fee of $64,616.

The comprehensive fee is decided by the University’s Board of Trustees, which is comprised of University President John Bravman and 30 additional members, 27 of whom are alumni.

The letter sent to students’ families was signed by Vice President for Finance and Administration David Surgala. In the letter, Surgala reiterates that the Board of Trustees acknowledges families’ financial concerns and works to limit costs “while investing in the University’s promise to deliver high-quality academic programs in an intimate living-learning environment.”

Surgala emphasized to The Bucknellian that the University is a “not-for-profit organization invested in its students and education mission.”

The University’s annual operating costs are about $286 million and approximately $58 million of this amount is dedicated to financial aid, according to Surgala. Seventy-one percent of this cost is generated by tuition, room and board, and similar fees, Surgala said, while the other 29 percent comes from the University’s endowment, gifts, and “miscellaneous funding sources.”

The University compares tuition, fees, and room and board costs to other high ranking liberal arts colleges and universities in an effort to contain expenses, Surgala explained.

“Out of the top 40 institutions, Bucknell’s comprehensive fee ranks near the middle at No. 18,” Surgala said. “In addition, we benchmark our annual comprehensive fee increase to those same institutions and we typically find ours to be at or near the median increase.”

Furthermore, recent renovations to the Graham Building, Roberts Hall, and future renovations on the former Delta Upsilon fraternity house to create a new Humanities Center, in addition to athletic field improvements, were referenced in the letter.

The establishment of the University’s third college, the College of Management, on July 1, 2017 and fundraising by the University’s WE DO campaign, which prioritizes financial aid, were also cited as forms of the University’s “investment” in its students and programs.

In the last 10 years, the University’s comprehensive fee has consistently risen by more than 3.4 percent annually, according to data provided by Surgala. The highest percent increase occurred during the 2008-09 academic year when cost increased by 4.75 percent. This coming academic year will have the highest percentage increase since the 2010-11 academic year, which also increased by 3.9 percent.

Early Decision applicants are admitted and provided financial aid packages before the Board of Trustees approve the new comprehensive fee. Financial aid packages are calculated using the most current comprehensive fee, so for Early Decision students, “we use a close estimate to award ED students their aid packages, which helps guard against any significant changes to those offers,” Surgala said.

Presidential Fellow and physics major Joshua Hellerick ’18 said he understands that prices must adjust to inflation, but does not understand why tuition increases do not accurately align with inflation.

“This situation is most definitely a bubble, and it has to burst soon, as the cost of a year at Bucknell will cross the six figure mark in 2027 with continued 4 percent annual increases,” Hellerick said. He believes that very few would be able to pay or justify paying that amount and universities will “run out of customers.”

Hellerick feels that it is not fair that the amount he receives through his Presidential Fellowship does not scale with the University’s tuition. However, he acknowledges that “from the administration’s perspective, it would be very difficult to manage annual changes to the amount of multiple scholarships, and it is something very easy to cut corners on when it comes to saving money,” Hellerick said.

The Presidential Fellowship does not make the University more affordable in Hellerick’s case because his demonstrated financial need is higher than the award amount he receives. Hellerick proposed that merit scholarships should be smaller and combined with demonstrated financial aid. New merit scholarships should be offered, suggests Hellerick, “for the best and brightest applicants” from solely an academic perspective that awards at least $20,000-$30,000 in addition to financial aid based on students’ demonstrated need.

Nathan Wagner ’17 also believes that his mathematics scholarship should cover a fixed percentage of the University’s tuition and views $67,136 as “an exorbitant price tag” that will anger a lot of people.

Many “bright and talented” students are inhibited from attending college due to their socioeconomic status and high tuition fees, Wagner said.

“I think Bucknell needs to somehow change their policies to bring the price down; I’m just not sure what the best mechanism is to achieve this goal,” Wagner said. The concept of free tuition or significantly smaller fees at public colleges or universities was appealing to Wagner.

“Individual schools also may have to look more carefully at how they’re spending money, particularly on elaborate and expensive facilities,” Wagner said.

In January of 2016, previous Board of Trustees member Bob Malesardi ’45 and his wife Doris, pledged to donate $20 million to the University. The amount was unprecedented and the highest pledge in the University’s history. The $20 million is designated entirely to financial aid endowment.

Alongside the $20 million pledge, the “Malesardi Match” was created to encourage others to donate as well. The program was set in motion in July 2016, and has currently raised $12 million for financial aid, according to the University’s website.

The Malesardi Match encourages donors to create or support a need-based endowed scholarship through a gift of 100,000 or more, and offers to match these donations by half the donor’s amount. More than half of undergraduate students receive institutional aid, according to the University’s website.

The comprehensive fee increase is “unreasonable,” according to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) member, ROTC scholarship recipient, and Dean’s Scholar Bennett Lunceford ’20.

Political science major Malaika de Weever ’17 described the comprehensive fee increase as “damaging” and predicted that “the University can expect to see an impact on the applicants they receive” to create a more polarized student body.

First generation college student and neuroscience major Hannah Litwa ’18 was dissatisfied with the University’s “lack of financial aid to students who need it, especially because many of the students here are well off.” Litwa criticized the University for annually increasing the cost of enrollment without increasing students’ financial aid.

“If the increase doesn’t harm those who are struggling financially” and financial aid is adjusted accordingly, theatre and political science major Midge Zuk ’19 did not see a reason to oppose the new comprehensive fee.

Jack Fleckner ’20 did not oppose the University’s new cost, “if they’re doing it for a good reason,” such as those listed in the letter sent home to students’ families. However, “they should also consider this cost while dishing out financial aid,” Fleckner said.

In raising its comprehensive fees, the University is able to pursue goals stated in its mission statement, including its commitment to “enhance the quality of all aspects of the undergraduate experience” to allow students to “develop intellectual maturity, personal conviction and strength of character, informed by a deep understanding of different cultures and diverse perspectives.”

Editor’s note: In the April 14 issue of The Bucknellian, a graph accompanied an article titled “University cost increases by 3.9 percent to $67,136 for the 2017-2018 academic year.”

The graph that depicted the rise in the cost of the University from 2010-11 until 2017-18 erroneously portrayed the cost as increasing along the x-axis as well as the y-axis. The labeled cost was accurate, but the increasing width along the x-axis exaggerated the apparent rise in University cost.

We regret the unfortunate misrepresentation of the information, and assure readers that no misdirection was intended.

We urge readers to consider that the article’s information on the rising cost of the University should not be overshadowing by a misrepresentative graph.

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