Tuition for the 2016-2017 school year is $47,870. Depending on where a student lives, that number can easily increase by another $8-9,000. Add in a meal plan, activity and health fees, and the sticker price to attend Denison can reach $60,670 per year. So where does that $47,870 go?
With tuition increasing every year, it’s understandable why students are frustrated. Makynzie Horvath ‘18 said, “It’s frustrating that education has to be so expensive. It shouldn’t be a privilege it should be a right.”
But the university isn’t sitting on a pile of gold.
According to David English, Vice President of Finance and Management at Denison, of that $47,870, roughly $25,000 goes to financial aid. With that $25,000 going to financial aid, Denison nets around $20,000 in tuition and fee revenue. Of this $20,000, about $400 goes to DCGA, who can disperse the funds. The $400 along with the $640 health center fee brings the average cost per student to $19,000.
Before coming to Denison, English worked for the federal reserve, an airline, and a tech company.
But he’s found working in higher education to be the most enjoyable. “Working for the tech company paid well but there was no other mission or benefit to what I was doing. I like the mission of higher education and working/interacting with students. I really like what it is we do,” he said.
While this price may not be the same for each student, the net tuition revenue for Denison is about $45 million, with about $1.5 million going to DCGA and the health center.
Even though $45 million sounds like a high number, it doesn’t even cover the salaries and wages of Denison faculty and staff. According to English, the compensation budget is about $60 million, and that number goes up every year due to inflation.
“60% of our operating budget is compensation, and with inflation, it’s hard to not give anyone a raise. If we don’t give out raises, the college would lose people,” said English.
Additionally, benefits for staff run about 40 percent of salaries and wages. Costs for healthcare increase each year, not because Denison is adding to what’s covered by insurance, but because it’s based on the trends each year. Benefits, as a result, drive a 1.5 percent increase in compensation alone.
On top of the $60 million in compensation, Denison also has another $6 million in interest expense on debt as well as travel and utility expenses. As a result, that $45 million doesn’t even manage to cover staff compensation.
But the sticker price, even with an explanatiom of the costs, can still be intimidating for prospective students. And with Denison wanting to recruit a more diverse student body, financial aid and admissions are changing how they do things.
“Our admissions department works hard with guidance counselors so prospective students know aid is available,” English said. Additionally, the financial aid homepage has a net cost calculator which can give a prospective student a general idea of what they would pay.
English recognizes the increase in tuition is hard to accept.. “We work really hard to find ways to buy efficiently. For example, we don’t just buy toilet paper ourselves. We buy from a large consortium that represents 500-800 schools, and if a company doesn’t give us a better price, they’ll lose our business. This helps us reduce our price increases but doesn’t let us hold prices flat because we face inflation on so many things.”
While the sticker price for a public school may be cheaper, English offers this analogy to think about public vs. private schooling: “I suspect that if you looked at the cost of a dental exam over the years, and the cost hasn’t gone up, it’s because of a dental technician. That would be like us hiring graduate students to teach instead of faculty. Public schools look at what it costs to educate you but they do it differently than Denison.”
For example, some schools have 400 person lectures with teaching assistants instructing different sections, while Denison’s student-faculty ratio is much smaller.
“We provide more hands-on instruction, that’s what makes us more expensive,” he said.
Denison is making an effort to make education more affordable. From the Red Thread Grant, raising the bookstore grant to $1,000 for incoming freshman, and the financial aid office providing new information on how to balance finances, several options exist to reduce financial stress.
And if your circumstances change, you can always appeal to financial aid.