With the current tuition increase rate at 5% per year, babies born this year (class of 2037) can expect to pay $156,671 per year—$626,685 over four years—for an undergraduate degree from Pitzer College. As a result, Pitzer students are left wondering, “where does my tuition go, and why has the tuition increased?” As a non-profit institution, Pitzer is not required to divulge its yearly financial audits. Fortunately, Pitzer used its discretion to post its audits from the past decade on its website. Understanding those audits can provide insight as to where the extra money is going.
The political and educational climate has changed immensely since Pitzer’s founding in 1963. Federal laws that impact the finances of institutions of higher education are constantly being created and amended. For example, Title IX wasn’t enacted until 1972, and the Clery Act has been amended 7 times since its inception in 1990. Additionally, more recent instances of regulation include Student Health Insurance and the Affordable Care Act. Presumably, these laws were passed with the best intentions for students attending college in America, and the debate about whether or not they are worth the costs is for a different article. This article will only seek to describe Pitzer College’s budget and the effects of new regulations on the increased cost of tuition.
For a college to remain accredited and in full compliance with the law, the administration of any four-year institution is required to keep a series of records and follow various regulations regarding, for example, pay, benefits, and equal opportunity. Consequently, these record keeping and associated costs are unavoidable for any institution seeking to demonstrate compliance with federal regulations. If a college is not compliant with, say, the Clery Act, possible consequences include a suspension of the institution’s Title IV funding, civil fines up to $38,500 per violation, and reputational loss due to negative media attention. Further, failure to comply with the Clery Act can be used in various litigation matters.
As new regulations are introduced, the extra paperwork and record keeping requires Pitzer to add more staff to its administration—a costly change. According to a recent study by Pitzer’s Institutional Research Board, Pitzer increased the size of its administration staff from 169 individuals to 217 (a 28% increase) between 2001 and 2014.
An additional factor contributing to Pitzer’s increased costs is the lower student-faculty ratio. A school’s student-faculty ratio is an important factor included in US News & World Report’s annual rankings of American colleges. As such, since the start of the 21st century, Pitzer has worked to reduce its student-faculty ratio—which includes only tenure and tenure-track faculty—from 13:1 to 10:1. As the size of the student body increased with the building of new dorms (from 937 students in 2001 to 1076 in 2014, a 15% increase), the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty increased from 59 to 79, a 34% increase. The total number of faculty members (including those who are neither tenured nor tenure-track) increased by 55% from 74 in 2001 to 115 in 2014.
The exact salaries of professors and members of the administration are confidential, but data from The Chronicle of Higher Education found the tenure and tenure track salaries at Pitzer College to be $115,00 per year at the high end in 2014 . The Chronicle also reported that administrative salaries ranged from $30,000 per year for service workers to $167,000 for high-end management positions during the 2013-2014 academic year. A complete breakdown of the budget can be found in the corresponding infographic.
While the data presented in the graphic may answer the question of, “what does my tuition pay for?” it hardly gives the reason for the increase in tuition. Various college expenses can be placed in different categories from year to year depending on a change in auditing guidelines. Part of the answer to the question of why Pitzer’s tuition has nearly quadrupled in the past 35 years is that the college is “nicer.” In the past ten years alone, Pitzer constructed a new pool, built brand-new LEED certified dorms, a new student gym, and has turned McConnell into one of the highest-rated dining halls in the country. The “Phase Two” dorms cost Pitzer $33 million to complete, while the construction of the student gym and other updates to the Gold Student Center cost the college an additional $7 million. On average, each category of Pitzer’s expenses has increased by 83% over the last decade, with a corresponding student revenue growth of 88%.
According to Paul F. Campos’ recent article in the New York Times, nationwide, enrollment in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs has increased by almost 50% since 1995. Campos reported that while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher than they were when Pitzer was founded in the 1960s, the cost of tuition has increased by a CPI-adjusted 1,120% since 1978. It cost around $1,300 to attend a top private college in the ’60s. Today, Pitzer charges $46,992 for full-time tuition ($61,750 including room and board) a 40% increase from $28,256 in 2003. Subsequently, Pitzer is the 15th-most expensive college in the country. Given the recent increases in spending on academic and administrative staff, along with construction projects, it appears that the 88% increase in student revenue over the last decade adds up. If the current trend continues, tuition will rise to unthinkable numbers, just as our current tuition is unfathomable to those who attended and paid for a Pitzer College education at its founding.