Tuition to increase 4.3 percent

by Frankie Olito / Beacon Staff • March 29, 2012

Tuition increases 1 02
Tuition costs at the college have steadily increased over the past five years.
Tuition costs at the college have steadily increased over the past five years.

The annual hike in tuition and housing costs plateaued for the next academic year, increasing by the same 4.3 percent, or $1,976, as in 2011. 

While the 4.3 percent increase is no more than it was for the 2011-2012 academic year, it is a lower percentage than the rise two years ago. In 2010-2011, the increase for tuition was 4.6 percent, the room and board increase was 4.9 percent, and the tuition and room and board increase combined was 4.5 percent, according to President M. Lee Pelton.

Pelton said he attributes the decrease from two years ago to the college’s plan to minimize tuition costs, while still having to raise the cost.

“The college is doing their very best to keep tuition as low as possible,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

Vice President for Administration and Finance Maureen Murphy agreed.

“We made a conscious effort to keep it as low as we can,” she said.

Other local colleges increased tuition costs for the 2012-2013 academic year are lower than Emerson’s. 

 Boston University will have a 3.79 percent increase, according to the college’s website. Boston College will have a 3.6 increase, according to its college newspaper The Knight, and Suffolk University will have a 3 percent increase in tuition, according to a message from President James McCarthy.

Pelton said the college’s dependence on revenue from tuition is a challenge that inevitably causes an increase every year.

“First, we are very tuition-dependent. Tuition alone acts for three out of four every revenue dollar,” he said.

Tuition and room and board dollars create 90 percent of the school’s revenue that pays faculty and staff salaries, maintenance and utility costs, according to Pelton. 

Endowments are a way schools like Harvard University pay for these costs. Harvard had $31 billion in endowments for 2011, according to Harvard Magazine, while Emerson had over $106 million for 2010, according U.S. News. Pelton said Emerson needs to move towards the type of process Harvard practices.

“We [Emerson] have a small endowment that will substantially grow over time, but it will take over a single year,” Pelton said.

Pelton said he plans on increasing the college’s endowment through fundraising. In a partnership with the incoming Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Jeffrey Schoenherr, who will take the position in May, Pelton said he will be raising money to pay for current expenses and put it towards endowments.

The percentage increase decision comes after the Student Government Association sent the Board of Trustees a letter two weeks ago, suggesting ways to reduce tuition costs.

Tanya Flink, junior theater studies and political communication double major and treasurer of the SGA, said the letter called for a guaranteed tuition program that would make a fixed tuition and room and board cost for students in the same grade for all four years.

“They should put a cap on it. We emphasized a fixed price for the class of 2016, so students can pay $45,000 for four years,” Flink said.

Flink also said there are too many negatives for students with such an increase.

“It hits home. It’s so expensive to attend college. It will diminish opportunity and diversity,” she said. “It will be a cycle of wealthy only being able to receive higher education.”

Pelton said the letter from the SGA was well received, but he sees faults in the proposed plan.

On a capped tuition budget, a certain graduating class would pay one amount for all four years, but the next class would pay a significantly higher amount, according to Pelton.

“We will look at it to see if it balances budget, but generally it’s been used to raise budget significantly,” he said.

Pelton said he and the Board of Trustees members are looking for other ways to reduce the tuition cost other than the guaranteed tuition program.

“Pelton is having us consider new ways to create new revenue,” Murphy said.

Some long term plans that Pelton said he will look into include allowing students to obtain a degree in shorter time. The group will look into finishing a four year program in three years, as well as a plan where students can complete a four year degree by attending two years at a community college and the other two at Emerson. Students can also take courses online to get their degree faster and cheaper, and lastly students can receive a BA and an MA in a five year program, rather than a six year.

Pelton said he is currently taking steps to decrease the tuition costs immediately. For example, this year Pelton implemented the Advisory Budget Priorities Planning Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff that work together to discuss and determine the best budget.

“The purpose is to provide transparency on budget process, to seek advice from students, faculty and staff on budget priories,” Pelton said.

This year, along with the new committee, the college created a new budget planning process, according to Murphy. By starting the process in August rather than January, the members of the Emerson community can be better involved in the process, she said.

There have been presentations with the faculty, staff, and SGA on the budget to promote the idea of transparency and to gain input, according to both Pelton and Murphy.

Pelton said the benefit of an increase is that 53 percent of the 4.3 percent increase is for financial aid.

“We have increased the financial aid budget significantly in the past four years, almost by 50 percent,” Pelton said.

Murphy also said the tuition at Emerson is lower than schools at the same level.

Flink said she disagrees.

“Although we are at the bottom, it doesn’t mean we’re cheap. We shouldn’t justify tuition increase by that because it will just skyrocket,” she said.

Murphy said the college is looking for this type of advice from students.

“We are looking at new ways for transparency, so there is more input,” Murphy said.


Correction: An earlier version of this article said Jeffrey Schoenherr will be the Vive President for Alumni Relations. He will be the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations.