Fewer students, more money: Students pay up for enrollment drop


Santiago Covarrubias

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, presented the 4 percent tuition increase at the Feb. 9 SGA meeting.

By Campus Editor

The college has announced a 4 percent tuition increase for the 2016–2017 academic year, raising the cost of a Columbia education to $24,590, nearly $1,000 more than the current tuition of $23,640.

Full-time Columbia students will be expected to pay $950 more in tuition costs compared to the previous $756 increase from the last fiscal year when the national average for a private college tuition increase was $1,174.

The college’s board of trustees voted to raise the total full-time tuition during the board’s Feb. 4 meeting, said President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim in announcing the hike at the Feb. 9 Student Government Association meeting. 

“This was the increase we felt—even though we recognize the big challenge for some of our students—gives the college a little bit of leeway to invest,” Kim said.

The college promises students more investments in the “student experience” but does not specify exactly what that will mean.

Kim said when finalizing the hike in tuition, which is the college’s primary source of revenue, the two most important factors were maintaining affordability to keep the college open to the widest range of potential students and funding further investments in programs, facilities, initiatives and faculty and staff that define the student experience and quality of education. 

College spokeswoman Cara Birch said the college’s board of trustees also compared Columbia’s rates to those of  peer institutions’ tuition rates and the college’s operating expenses. 

About 95 percent of the college’s revenue is directly linked to tuition, but Birch said the college continues to strengthen its endowment and fundraising abilities to eventually reduce the amount of tuition needed to support the college’s budget.

Jake Dagit, a sophomore business & entrepreneurship major, said the spike in tuition is frustrating because he is already working a full-time job in addition to going to school full-time to  help make payments toward financing his education. 

“It is really frustrating when you see they are adding more administrative positions,” Dagit said. “We need [some] relief.”

According to new Spring enrollment figures released by the college, the number of new transfer students decreased by 11 students compared to the Spring 2015 Semester while the number of new freshmen enrolled for the Spring 2016 Semester increased by six students.

During the SGA meeting, Kim said it is more cost-effective to focus on retaining students than recruiting students, aligning with the college’s push to spend more on bringing value to the student experience, which should improve student retention. 

“If we focus on the number of new freshmen and transfer students every fall as the marker of our success, we are missing a really important point [of focusing on current students’ value],” Kim said. 

The Cinema Art + Science Department remains the largest department with 1,378 students continuing study for the Spring 2016 Semester. The Radio, Education and the Humanities,  History & Social Sciences departments continue to face enrollment numbers of less than 100 students each.

Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, said in a Feb. 12 emailed statement that this semester, the college is focusing on determining the optimal enrollment for each department, the capacity departments have for enrollment growth and studying the market to see which majors prospective students are looking for. Wearden added that the college plans to integrate this information into a new recruiting strategy.

Birch said Jeff Meece, associate vice president of Enrollment Management since July 2015, has already implemented advancements in recruitment strategies by improving the tracking of prospective students who attend Open House events and realigning and training tour guides for more effective results.

In a Feb. 9 collegewide email, Kim said during the next four years of implementing the Strategic Plan, initiatives to engage in more conversations about curriculum, revamp the college’s advising center and invest nearly $12 million in technology upgrades and program facility improvements—all of which are expected to improve the student experience—will happen.

Beginning in the Fall 2016 Semester, Kim said all undergraduate curricula will have “clear pathways to graduation,” especially for those students who change majors. He also expects the new Career Center to provide a streamlined process for career support, and additional college galleries and exhibition spaces will become available to showcase more student work.

Claire Bernotavicius, a sophomore business & entrepreneurship major, said the consistent yearly increases are “ridiculous” because students already deal with high living expenses in Chicago.

Kim said he aims to address strained affordability by reducing students’ reliance on student loans and focus the student scholarship program on a basis of financial need, rather than merit.

Since 2011, the college saw a 10 percent decrease in the use of student loans, a 15 percent increase in the use of institutional grants and a 4 percent decrease in the use of government grants during the 2015 fiscal year, partly due to Illinois’ budgetary problems that have stalled the distribution of MAP Grants to eligible students.

Since the 2012 fiscal year, the college’s total unrestricted institutional aid, nonspecific scholarships available to a broad range of students, has increased by $18 million, or 97 percent, in the last four years.  Kelly said the increase in scholarships came from the college tightening its budget and using every “precious” resource to support student scholarships.

Additionally, 73.6 percent of Columbia’s freshmen received scholarships during the Fall 2015 Semester, a 1 percent increase since the Fall 2014 Semester, and 51.9 percent of Columbia undergraduates received scholarships in the Fall 2015 Semester, a 3.6 increase since the Fall 2014 Semester. Kelly said of about 8,000 undergraduate students at the college, about 4,900 students are receiving scholarships. 

Jonathan Stern, vice president of Development & Alumni Relations, said in a Feb. 12 emailed statement that the college continued supporting students’ scholarships by hiring a new alumni relations director and team last summer to help implement new programs. 

Luther Hughes, president of SGA and a senior creative writing major, said he thought Kim and Kelly’s presentation of tuition was informative and helped explain the “why” factor of the increase through data. 

“To keep everything running smoothly, money has to come from somewhere,” Hughes said. “Since we are a tuition-based school, [functionality] has to come from tuition, unfortunately.”

Rebecca Martin, a freshman fashion studies major, said increasing tuition is frustrating, but expected. She added that the increase was lower than what she had budgeted for.

Martin said she would rather pay another $950 toward tuition than let go of teachers.

The college is projecting a significant turnaround five to six years from now in 2021–2022, but will begin to see improvements as early as 2018–2019 if the college continues to operate as “streamlined, focused and determined” as it is now, Birch said.

“The compelling student experience we offer, the comprehensive curriculum that challenges our students and their ability to go out into the world and make it upon graduation—that is the real measurement of value,” Kelly said.