College announces ‘average’ tuition increase claim conflicts with national data

By Alexandra Kukulka

Columbia students will be paying 5.2 percent more for tuition and fees beginning next semester, according to a collegewide email from President Warrick L. Carter. The email declared that the increase was “in line” with the national average for private colleges in the U.S.

However, according to The College Board, which tracks college tuition throughout the U.S., there is no way Carter could know what other colleges and universities are planning for the 2012–2013 school year, as these decisions are still being made.

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, acknowledged as much, saying: “None of us know what that average will be for this year. Colleges are not allowed to compare [tuition averages], so it is only after the fact that you know what the national average is for the coming year.”

Last year’s average for private, four-year colleges like Columbia was only 4.6 percent. These increases in tuition directly correlate with the 3.68 percent decrease in enrollment numbers for the spring 2012 semester, according to Kelly.

Columbia’s enrollment is also not in line with national trends, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which reported that the national average in enrollment has been steadily increasing since 2000.

Carter was unavailable for comment.

According to The College Board’s annual report, “Trends in College Pricing 2011,” 71 percent of full-time students at private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities attend institutions that increased their tuition between 3–6 percent, the same category Columbia falls under.

“As the most diverse arts and media college in the country, Columbia College Chicago must remain affordable to our students while also continually improving the educational experience,” Carter said in the email. “We know there is a legitimate concern about student debt, and we continue to look for ways to counter the rising costs of a quality education.”

In the same email, he stated that the college has “successfully negotiated” an 8.6 percent reduction in room and board costs for students living on campus for 2012–2013. Carter said with the decrease in room and board, the 2,500 students living on campus in fall 2012 will see a combined decrease in cost for tuition, fees and room and board.

However, Columbia’s total undergraduate tuition is still lower than the national figure. In the same email, Carter also stated that graduate tuition will increase by an average of 7.2 percent.

The enrollment numbers for spring 2012 show a decrease of 404 students since the spring 2011 semester. This decrease is linked to the major issue of affordability, Kelly said.

According to him, the college has stressed the importance of scholarship funding for its students, with 31.83 percent of the student body receiving help from Columbia for the fall 2011 semester. Five years ago, only 15 percent of students received financial support from the institution, he added.

“If [the institution] kept with this [downward trend], the college would have $12 million more to put in other places in the college, and it doesn’t because it is in scholarships,” Kelly said.

In his email, Carter said there will be a 21 percent increase in scholarship funds next year. This means that the institution will award $23.6 million in scholarships to students. The email states that next year, some 4,000 students will receive scholarships, up from 2,700 students three years ago.

“To just look at tuition rates without looking at scholarships doesn’t compute,” Kelly said. “I would argue, without a question, this shows that the college has placed a huge priority in scholarship support for its students.”

Even with scholarship support, new students are still forced to quit Columbia because they can’t afford it, Kelly said. The interest in Columbia is still high, with an additional 800 freshman applicants.

With tuition increasing and enrollment dropping, departments are seeing a decline in their enrollment numbers.

According to Carly Flagg, chair of the American Sign Language-English Interpretation Department, the number of students with an ASL-English interpretation major has stayed even by way of enrollment. However, Flagg has noticed a drop in enrollment in early ASL and deaf culture courses, which non-major students take for U.S. pluralism and humanities credits.

Similarly, the Fiction Writing Department is experiencing a drop in enrollment, which began last semester, in the “Story in Fiction and Film” class, according to Patty McNair, acting chair of the Fiction Writing Department.

In the past, 200 students took the class. This semester, only 80 students have registered, McNair added. The humanities designation was taken away from the course for fall 2011 because the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department withdrew the course’s credit, McNair said.

“That is a significant difference for us,” she said. “[Humanities classes] are college wide classes open to anybody without any prerequisites, so we are disappointed with that.”

With tuition and enrollment directly affecting each other, the institution realizes there are economic pressures on students who do continue to apply to Columbia, Kelly said.

However, the college is also experiencing pressure on its budget with fewer students attending.

“[The tuition increase] is not an argument to say that there are not tremendous pressures on our students because there is less family income,” Kelly said.“[The institution is] shifting more into scholarships as our students’ ability to afford the cost of higher education here or anywhere becomes more difficult every year.”