As a senior, I often encounter classmates who are about to graduate and enter the professional world. Often burdened with the same fears of chipping away at mountainous student debt and finding a job related to their field, it is not uncommon for graduating seniors to care little for what will financially impact the next generation of Columbia students.
However, knowing the college’s financial woes and having friends who will remain long after I cross the stage does not afford me the same mentality.
In the September/October issue of Washington Monthly, Columbia College is ranked as the 11th worst college in the country. The magazine, which used a formula that looked at cost of tuition compared to average debt, loan default rates and overall graduation rates, argues that “the simplest way to define a bad college is a place that charges students large amounts of money, probably financed by debt they cannot afford, to receive an education so terrible that most students drop out before graduation.”
Washington Monthly does not take into account the fact that Columbia is an art school—a label which tends to mean lower graduation rates—nor did it look at the success stories of the students from the colleges it so senselessly called “the worst.”
As someone who loves the college and its unique community, I want to be outraged by the ranking. It does not take into account the hardworking faculty and staff. It does not look at the passion and diligence of Columbia students.
But I cannot be outraged because its formula touches on issues that are deeply affecting the college, and facts are facts. Columbia is expensive. Students leave with debt, and some of them default on their loans. Its graduation rate is not the shabbiest, but it is far from ideal.
In the Front Page story about enrollment, readers will learn that the college has experienced its fifth year of declining enrollment, resulting in a $6.3 million loss in revenue at a time when it offered $32 million in scholarships to students, an $8.5 million increase compared to the year prior.
The increase in scholarship funds, which are being billed by President Kwang-Wu Kim as a necessary tool to attract more students to the college—a goal that appears to have failed—is unfair because it doles out money to incoming students using funds generated from tuition hikes and largely overlooks the debt-ridden returning students who do not have the luxury of increased aid.
Furthermore, the college’s ability to fundraise remains uncertain, and, as evidenced in past years, has historically been lackluster. While Jon Stern’s appointment as vice president of Development heralds an opportunity to address the problem, his department remains gutted from the mass Institutional Advancement terminations that took place in February.
Despite my reservations about how the college is approaching its financial woes, I gladly acknowledge the improvements it is making. The college has tightened its admissions policies. It has moved from its liberal open-door philosophy and is taking academic performance more seriously. The result: an 89 percent acceptance rate and an incoming class with an average GPA of 3.25—the most academically prepared class in the college’s history, according to college officials.
Hopefully, the incoming generation of Columbia students will help prove Washington Monthly wrong. But the college needs to help them do it. It needs to start mitigating tuition hikes and being more aggressive in generating funds outside of tuition. It also needs to extend more aid to the students who have invested their time and money into the institution. It is time the college gave something back to its investors.