Opinion: Tuition increases past inflation

As I discussed a few weeks ago in Chimes, Calvin’s tuition has increased far past affordability and the rates of inflation. If tuition has increased, spending must also have grown.

Do students cost more to educate than in the past? The data doesn’t line up with this hypothesis. Since 1970, not only have the salaries of full-time professors lagged behind the rate of interest, but colleges are also opting to hire lower-cost adjunct professors over tenured faculty. In addition to this, Calvin professors only make roughly two-thirds of the average American professor salary. As counterintuitive as it may sound, much of tuition does not go directly toward students’ educations.

If instructional costs haven’t accounted for the growth in tuition, what has? This issue is multifaceted, so no one cost is to blame. However, some of these new costs aid Calvin’s academic mission.

Recently, Calvin’s admissions has wanted greater control in attracting their ideal student body. This means offering scholarships to gifted students, minorities, musicians and Christian Reformed Church members. In order to offer these scholarships, Calvin must raise the general sticker price of tuition to make up for the loss. This spending positively impacts Calvin’s academic environment.

The availability of federal student loans also plays a role. These have created a vicious cycle of hyperinflation in which students want access to higher education, so the American government responds in the form of readily available loans. Colleges see that students now have these loans and raise their prices accordingly. Students rightfully complain about the greater cost, and the process repeats itself. Calvin should not mindlessly follow other colleges into raising prices because students can apply for loans. This practice is irresponsible and harmful.

If these two factors were the sole reasons Calvin’s tuition costs so much today, then the administration’s recent cuts to majors would make sense. But that is not the case. Calvin’s administration has also expanded relentlessly.

In 1990, Calvin had six deans. Today, Calvin has thirteen. That is seven more full-time positions, seven more salaries and seven more sets of benefits. It’s not just deans. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, administrative positions at American colleges have expanded 60% between 1993 and 2009 despite technological advances that should have curtailed that growth. Calvin boasts more directors, counselors, and coordinators than ever before—yet with a smaller student body. According to Calvin’s yearly financial statements, its payroll spending is increasing faster than the rate of tuition. The number of faculty positions are not changing, so the difference must be picked up in administration.

In addition to our bloated administrative branch, Calvin has either created or expanded amenities such as the Rhetoric Center, tutors, the Broene Center for Counseling and Wellness, on-campus concerts and movies and a seemingly endless number of acronymed positions in dorm life over the past decades. These centers and services require personnel and training, which require money.

I reference these factors because, given Calvin’s financial climate, the college most likely will be cutting costs further. Calvin’s administration has already cut programs and is buying out professors’ salaries. Majors have either become minors or fast-tracked their curriculum to avoid being downsized. The administration has shown that it believes the heart of the problem lies in academic spending. Even if this were true, a college’s primary goal is to educate students. Then Calvin could at least say it had spent money excessively in the right direction. The extravagant cost lies in the growth of non-faculty positions.

The administration should then look at itself when cutting spending.

At the end of the day, Calvin College is a college, not a bureaucracy or a cruise ship. Every salary or service is worth something only if it educates or efficiently aids Christian education. When Calvin starts to cut, the administration should start at its own excesses before it slices off what makes Calvin College a college.