Kate McLaughlin ’21
On Tuesday, March 26, students, faculty, and staff gathered in Rehm library for the second annual Tuition Transparency Town Hall. Earlier that day, students had received an email from Student Affairs notifying them that the Board of Trustees voted to set tuition, standard room and board, and mandatory fees at $69,810 for the 2019-2020 academic year, representing a 3.75 percent increase from the 2018-2019 academic year, which in turn was 4.25 percent higher than the previous year.
The Town Hall was organized by the Student Government Association and consisted of a presentation by Dorothy Hauver, Vice President for Administration and Finance, and Tracy Barlok, Vice President for Advancement, followed by a question-and-answer portion. Louis Hurtado ‘19, Treasurer of SGA and one of the three students on the College’s financial planning committee, moderated the event.
Hurtado prefaced Hauver and Barlok’s presentations, saying, “We all know that tuition increases are never pleasant, but it’s important to see what is being done, and why things are being done first.”
Hauver said, “We are always trying to balance the affordability of education with being able to offer faculty compensation that is reasonable and competitive, trying to address strategic initiatives, programming needs, student experiences. We are grappling with what the right balance [is] of that with the tuition increase, and the Board certainly takes that very seriously.”
She provided a brief overview of the various sources from which the College gets its money and of how that money is spent. She detailed the College’s operating budget, of which $97.4 million, or about 50 percent, comes from net tuition and fees. She also displayed a chart depicting Holy Cross’ tuition and room and board changes in comparison with other educational institutions that are structured similarly to Holy Cross, which showed that Holy Cross is only about 300 dollars more expensive than the median institution on the chart.
Barlok’s presentation focused on the College’s capital budget, the majority of which comes from alumni donations and funds either debt service or the renewal or replacement of buildings and equipment. One of her slides displayed the College’s four most recent major capital projects, including the Joyce Contemplative Center, the Luth Athletic Complex, the Recreation and Wellness Center (for which the expected completion is Fall 2020), and the Performing Arts Center (for which the expected completion is Fall 2021).
The question-and-answer session consisted both of questions that were presubmitted online before the Town Hall and questions that were asked at the microphone. Erin Dennehy ‘19 asked multiple questions, including why the Town Hall was not being filmed, when many other major events in Rehm are filmed and posted online. She also asked if the administration would be willing to provide an itemized breakdown of their proposed yearly budget before tuition increases are made, similar to what RSOs must do for SGA.
Students left with mixed impressions of the Town Hall. “Sometimes when talking about tuition and other items related to finances, it can get complicated and confusing,” Hurtado said. “Dottie and Tracy gave a great overview of how the College operates financially, and I hope students were able to get a better understanding of the College budget and why the decision to increase tuition was made. I hope students feel their concerns were addressed. I have a great feeling that the administration heard out those who were present and know what their priorities should be moving forward.”
Others, however, were not as satisfied with the administration’s efforts. “I personally was disappointed for a couple of reasons,” Dennehy remarked after the Town Hall. She said that the format of the question-and-answer session precluded her from pointing out that the College has increased tuition 140 percent over the past 20 years, and that room, board, and tuition has gone up 15 percent since her freshman year (2014-2015).
“I think this was a pathetic attempt at transparency, and a waste of everyone’s time – just like the administration wanted it to be,” she added. “If the administration is serious about being transparent about tuition, it has a lot of work to do to make that happen, because they are falling short of even the lowest of expectations. I should also add that the students have a lot of work to do as well, since the odds of the administration willingly being honest and transparent – as we’ve seen over the past year – is close to zero. They will have to demand more from their administrators, unless they want to see another 3-5 percent hike in tuition this time next year.”
Students who have questions about the tuition increase should email SGA, drop by SGA’s open office hours in Hogan 220, or refer to Tuition Transparency Frequently Asked Questions that will be posted on SGA’s website.
Photo by Hui Li ’21.