As graduating seniors complete the spring semester and move toward the next chapter in their lives, continuing students must face the increased tuition for the next academic year and beyond. The USF tuition for the 2017-2018 academic year will increase by 3.9 percent from the previous academic year, now totaling $45,760. Three of the main drivers of the tuition increase are financial aid, compensation for staff faculty and IT-related costs.
Part of undergraduates’ tuition will contribute to an increase in financial aid to students, according to Charles Cross, USF’s vice president of business and finance. “The bad news is, it’s an increase,” he said. “The good news is, we are providing support for those students who most need it.”
According to the operating budget for USF, financial aid makes up 21.2 percent of the expenses for 2018. “We award, currently, almost a hundred million dollars a year of tuition money to students” said Cross. That is, of the total amount of tuition collected from students, about a hundred million of those dollars are returned to students in the form of financial aid.
In discussing the increase in tuition, “for a number of students that’s significant” says Cross, “for others it’s not.”
The average student pays about 65 percent of the total cost of attendance to the University, according to USF President Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. The differences in need for financial aid vary within the student body.
Some students are only able to attend USF due to financial aid. Chloe Charlton, a sophomore English major, said in regard to her financial aid package, “If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be going here.” Increased financial aid is essential to ensuring that those students are able to continue their education at USF.
However, not all students qualify for financial aid, and for these students the tuition increase is a burden without the benefits. These include students from middle-class families attending USF who do not qualify for financial aid, but are still struggling with the high cost of tuition. “There are federal formulas that we follow in our awarding of financial aid,” said Cross.
Some students who do not receive financial aid are considering leaving USF due to the tuition increase. “I don’t qualify for any government aid, but it is still hard to afford,” said sophomore English major Stuart Gill. “I’ve got a $12,000 scholarship to another school, and that’s heavily factoring into my decision [to stay at USF].”
According to Fitzgerald, a third of USF students are first generation college students and many students come from low-income families. Approximately 69 percent of undergraduate students receive financial aid. Fitzgerald said, n the rest of the student body, “we have a middle third of our students” who fall into the middle- class range, while a third of USF students are from affluent families.
Rhetoric professor Maximilian DeLaure, said “By raising tuition and raising financial aid, I think what USF is trying to do is have the more affluent students subsidize the less affluent students.”
A large factor in USF’s budget leading to the need for a tuition increase is compensation costs, which include salaries and benefits. Sixty-five percent of “cost structure is related to compensation,” according to Cross. The compensation goes, in part, to the faculty who are providing the students’ education. “I feel like my education is top notch,” says Emese Maklary, a freshman psychology major, “all of my professors are awesome, I feel like all of them care.”
An adjunct professor in the English department, Ana Rojas, said at USF the students receive “a great deal of one-on-one attention that you would not get at a state or publicly funded university.”
Regarding the cost of compensation, Fitzgerald said, “We want to hire and retain the best faculty, which means we have to pay very competitive salaries.”
Total compensation in 2018 is projected to be 54.1 percent of USF’s expenses, according to the operating budget. In terms of compensation costs “we don’t look at faculty as a separate group, we look at all employees,” says Cross, “we try to treat all employees similarly as far as increases.”
Some of the USF faculty believe the recent difficult contract negotiations involving full-time faculty compensation are related to the increase in tuition. The negotiations ended with a three year contract for full-time faculty with an increase of two percent per year. “It seems to me that the approach has been to slow down the increase of salary of faculty, and at the same time increase the tuition of students,” said DeLaure.
Some students also think the tuition increase is due to salary negotiations. “It feels a little bit like the school was fighting to not pay their employees more, and then when they lost that battle, they were like, ok, we’ll take that money out of the students pockets,” said Gill.
While some faculty and students feel the contract negotiations factored prominently in the tuition increase, according to Cross in USF administration “the full time faculty, that a contact negotiation was prolonged, but is no different than any other employee groups.” Cross says “we project those costs, and we factored those costs into the decision to raise tuition.”
IT (Information Technology)
Another large cost contributing to the need for the tuition increase at USF is “IT related costs, continuing to expand and enhance computer networks, the WiFi, the broadband access,” according to Cross.
The expense for information technology services is projected to go up 5.1 percent, according to the USF operating budget for 2018 at USF. Cross says that the students’, “use of the broadband is immense” and, “requires tremendous resources to be able to deliver that content.”
Along with providing the technology, there are additional costs for security. “On a daily basis, we have four to five thousand attempts to hack our systems,” says Cross. The security is in place to protect students’ identities and “that takes millions of dollars a year,” according to Cross. “Most people don’t realize how much money is spent on stuff you never see in the IT infrastructure,” said Cross.
“Maybe they’re gonna finally make the WiFi work,” said Jezebel Kachanon, a sophomore English major, in regard to her thoughts on the tuition increase.
As Fitzgerald and Cross point out, the increase in tuition is not limited to the University of San Francisco, but is part of a larger trend in the increasing cost of higher education. The increase in expense is prominent in university systems. “I think all American universities are very expensive,” said DeLaure.
Santa Clara University, in comparison, is increasing tuition by 4.5 percent, and adding a $625 student enhancement fee for next fall, according to Cross.
Susannah Needham, a sophomore English major, said in response to the tuition increase “I’m just not surprised because everything gets more expensive every year.”
As for a way to help lower future tuition costs for students, Fitzgerald says “the long-term solution is to grow the endowment.”
Rojas concurred. “We do not have this enormous endowment; this capital that allows us to make money and that allows us to help our students,” she said. A larger endowment could help USF provide more money for financial aid to more students.
Over Fitzgerald’s last three years working at USF, he said, “we raised $126 million in new gifts and pledges.” However, it will take a while before the University will “meet families’ financial needs to be able to send their kids here,” said Fitzgerald.
For the 2017-18 school year, USF students will by paying more in tuition to help pay for need-based financial aid, compensation for the staff and faculty, and, hopefully, making the WiFi work by spending more on information technology services. But the issue of increasing cost for education will be affecting students at many other universities as well. The possibility of a larger endowment may one day give students the opportunity to pay less for a private college education.