FOR THE QC
Imagine that you are purchasing a new home with a mortgage of $100,000, monthly payments of $473 over 30 years and an interest rate of 3.92 percent. Now, imagine that, after seven and a half years (a quarter of the way through purchasing your house) of paying $473 a month, your bank increased your monthly payments 3.5 percent more than what had been originally agreed upon. What if the bank decided to do this again at 15 years (halfway through your mortgage), and again at 22.5 years (three quarters of the way), and again on your final year?
This hypothetical may seem ludicrous, yet it is similar to what every student at Whittier College experiences with their tuition. From 2014–16, tuition at Whittier increased 3.5 percent, and then another 3.5 percent from 2015–17.
Therefore, if a first-year student had entered the college in 2014 and had intended to graduate in four years, he or she would have anticipated paying $41,636 each year, with a four-year total of $166,544. With the increases in tuition, though, the student would actually be paying more than $175,000 over four years at the college. A difference of about $9,000.
Though it may seem arbitrary, the practice of increasing tuition every year is not unique to Whittier College.
In an open meeting of the Associated Students of Whittier College (ASWC) Senate on Nov. 6, Whittier’s Vice President for Finance and Administration James Dunkelman was asked about the prospect of having a four-year fixed tuition. Dunkelman acknowledged that the idea of fixed tuition was something that had been considered, but that tuition increases are “consistent with competitors (other small liberal arts colleges across the country).” Dunkelman pointed to a report conducted by the school’s Social Justice Coalition (SJC) for reference.
While it does not make a direct connection between decreased enrollment and tuition increases here at Whittier, the report shows that the College suffered a significant drop in enrollment numbers from 2014–16 when compared to the regional four-year liberal arts colleges in the study that has a fixed-tuition policies.
Looking at these schools, you can see that Pomona College’s enrollment rate increased by 0.8 percent during this period while Pitzer College experienced a slight decrease of 0.8 percent. Meanwhile, Occidental and Harvey Mudd’s enrollment rates increased by 1.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. Whittier College enrollment fell 23.6 percent.
Looking at the data, Whittier College’s tuition increases are indeed consistent with some other expensive competitors, such as Clarement McKenna College and Champman University. The report, however, shows most schools with annual increases did see a drop in enrollment, though none as drastic as Whittier’s.
In a letter to the Board of Trustees, Karsten Torres, the Social Justice Coalition’s Co-Chair of Finance at the time of the report said, “The constant annual growth rate for tuition expenses seems to be too much for students to handle and thus can possibly validate the … correlation between tuition costs rising and student enrollment dropping.”
In the letter, Torres acknowledges that there are several factors, apart from tuition, which could contribute to a college’s drop in enrollment and retention, but which cannot be quantified by numbers. The variables mentioned include the quality of the campus, student residential life, and overall academic factors.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of it like that before,” said Victoria Gonzalez, a fourth-year student at Whittier College, when asked about whether or not the tuition increases she’s experienced have brought about a change in her experience at the College. “I’d say the quality of the new professors that I have seen come on has definitely increased … I think that there are definitely a lot more efforts by different departments to make sure that students are engaged in some way.”
Although Gonzalez did acknowledge that her time as a Whittier College student has only gotten better, she doesn’t necessarily think that the improvements in her experiences are related to the tuition hikes. “I wouldn’t connect the two,” says Victoria. “I think that the drop in retention a couple of years ago is a bigger motivator than the increase in tuition.”
“I’d say the quality of the new professors that I have seen come on has definitely increased … I think that there are definitely a lot more efforts by different departments to make sure that students are engaged in some way,” said Gonzalez. Other students, though, says that while Whittier’s cost has changed, the experience has not.“I would say my experience at Whittier has stayed the same,” said second-year Political Science major Alyssa Klinzing. “I think it is only logical that I should not have to pay more money for something if my experience is not changing. Honestly, I have considered transferring several times because things here just aren’t getting any better.”
“However, if we want to be innovative, if we want to be a college that’s setting the bar higher than other colleges like us, then we should be open to more and more things,” said Klinzing. ASWC Treasurer third-year Jacob Conlon, who thinks fixed tuition would be a better route for Whittier College to go, even if annual hikes are consistent with some competitors.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Conlon. “I’ve talked with a lot of administrators, and their argument against it is that a lot of four-year liberal arts colleges don’t follow this plan, which is a smart policy to undertake because you want to do things that other successful institutions are doing. However, if we want to be innovative, if we want to be a college that’s setting the bar higher than other colleges like us, then we should be open to more and more things. So I just don’t see their argument against it in that sense.”