Editorial: Columbia needs to be honest about its financial crisis

By Editorial Board

Columbia is facing a reckoning over its financial deficit. President Kwang-Wu Kim told the campus last week that the college will need to increase tuition, improve retention, attract new students and cut operational costs.

All four strategies must work, he warned.

We appreciated his honesty, even if the strategies are going to hurt, because trust us, they will certainly hurt.

Tuition increases have almost become the default for the college despite the strong pushback from students. The college announced in 2021 it would raise tuition by 10% and again by 5% in 2022.

If the college intends to raise tuition again, it needs to be transparent with students about why the price is going up and what they will be getting for the extra money. Students need reasons — specific reasons — not just an email that barely scrapes at them. The next steps the college takes needs to be justifiable to the students. It literally depends on this.

Kim said students pay less than it costs to educate them. To bridge that gap, the college could consider removing some of its general education courses. Don’t invest in courses people can take anywhere else for less money. Instead, encourage it and allow students a clearer pathway to transfer those credits.

Many students complain about the required Columbia Experience courses in the Core Curriculum and would prefer to stay focused on their major courses that help their own careers — so get rid of them.

These may not be popular solutions with faculty and administrators, but students should have a say in how the college is reducing costs. This entire situation has no easy solution, but an inclusion of the student body, faculty and staff, alumni and stakeholders is required.

Of course, arguably one of the most important strategies when it comes to retention improvement is diversity. The Chronicle has extensively discussed the reason most students do not return is because of the lack of representation in their classrooms and fields.

However, none of this can even be a possibility without understanding that many students do not apply and do not stay because of the college’s price point.

So where do we go from here? Columbia isn’t alone in the financial crisis. Neighboring DePaul University is also undergoing a financial crisis, but while their administrators are allegedly throwing away newspapers detailing the deficit, Columbia has the chance to go a completely different route — transparency.