Financial mystery: Are the persistent tuition increases just?

By Clarissa Strayer

While enjoying the quickly approaching spring break, make sure to account for the fact that tuition is indeed increasing once again. Students should prepare for the dreaded email that will come out explaining the successes of the university this year, with a short little paragraph towards the end explaining a significant tuition increase. The roughly four-percent increase requires student to pay over $1,100 more for the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, room and board will increase, putting students and their families even deeper in the hole.

While some might not see an issue with yearly incremental climbs in tuition, the amount quickly adds up, making a Saint Martin’s education unattainable for some students. Students who do not come from financially privileged backgrounds will struggle to afford an education here, even with scholarship assistance. The university needs to value the intelligent, well-rounded diversity of applicants and make the education more accessible to them rather than raise tuition, which deters these students from even applying.

Not only is Saint Martin’s trying to raise and restructure their acceptance standards, but they are also trying to fix the decrease in enrollment, which inevitably produces conflict. Saint Martin’s is putting education out of reach for the bright, young minds who do not have unlimited funds to combat the significant tuition increases.

If more money is what Saint Martin’s needs, then perhaps the money is already being used in certain areas of campus that do not directly improve the student experience.

“Cut the bullshit programs and offices directed at media; if you’re giving all these positions money to advertise, clearly it’s not working,” reflects sophomore Hunter Cacy.

Saint Martin’s claims they strive for diversity, yet the inaccessibility of the school diminishes all chances of real diversity. Diversity does not just mean being racially different within a particular class, but having a range of ethnicities from various classes. Trying to appeal to international students helps with diversity, but at the same time, it’s another way of gaining students who will pay full tuition. Saint Martin’s needs students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

To truly grasp the essence of diversity, this school must make the education accessible to all students, regardless of class position. The selective structure of Plato’s “Republic”, where one is entitled to societal positions based upon birthright, does not pertain to the education at Saint Martin’s.

The roundabout “Spring Update from the President” from last spring had no indication of a tuition increase until the final paragraphs. Many students either routinely deleted the message or briefly skimmed over the email, and never even saw the section about not only the tuition increase, but also the room and board increase.

“I didn’t even know about the 5.5 percent tuition increase and the 3.5 percent increase in room and board until I received a notice from the school saying I had to pay an additional $5,000,” remembers Cacy.

In 2012, Saint Martin’s President, Roy Heynderickx, Ph.D., received $307,561 total compensation, as reported by the Fiscal 2012 Form 990. This form is specific for organizations exempt from income tax, such as this institution. Further, this form also displays the former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Joseph Bessie, with a total compensation of $201,143.

The VP of Finance/Chief Financial Officer, Dean of Engineering, Dean of Business, Dean of College of Education and Professional Psychology, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and the Vice President of International Programs are also among the top paid employees at the university.  

Most students probably have no idea that they can access Saint Martin’s tax forms online. All tax and audit forms for the university are located at http://www.stmartin.edu/finance/TaxAndAuditInfo.aspx, which includes Form 990 from Fiscal 2006-2012, as well as Annual Financial Reports from Fiscal 2007-2013. 

As described in the Supplemental Information in the 990 from Fiscal 2012:

“The Board shall pay or reimburse the President and President’s spouse for reasonable entertainment expenses, travel expenses, hotel bills, and other necessary expenses to further the interests of the University. The Board provides a housing allowance of $30,000 per year, and an automobile allowance of $12,000 per year. The Board

will provide the President, at University expense, with membership in business clubs, service organizations and professional organizations that would further the interests of the University.”

Knowing that assistant professors make somewhere in the ballpark of $46,4561, students were asked how much the President of Saint Martin’s should make in relation to that figure. 

“He should be making $80,000 max,” agreed Cacy and recent Saint Martin’s alum Josh Hite.

In 2010, Saint Martin’s collected $31,266,588 in tuition and fees.2 Yes, it does take a great deal of money to run an educational institution, but when the President makes an astronomical $307,561 compared to a full-time assistant professor who makes somewhere around $46,456, there are clearly funds in there somewhere to give professors the compensation they deserve.

Only 37 percent of Saint Martin’s expenditures in 2011 went towards instruction.1 Compared to the other private, four year, nonprofit universities in Washington, this is the second lowest expenditure on instruction.1 While a great deal of learning and accomplishment occurs outside the classroom, the skills and knowledge students cultivate in the classroom inspires them to pursue these other arenas. This school must invest in instruction if the Officers, Directors, and Trustees expect the school to become a “Destination School” in the near future.

Tuition increase that directly affects students and improves what goes on in the classroom is justified only so long as the professors benefit from the tuition increase. The stagnant earnings of professors despite their hard work, dedication to their students and research, and persistence for students’ success is unjust in a place that claims to embody Benedictine Values.  

Professors are the people who keep this university together and who retain the students semester after semester. Increases in tuition should go towards the professors who so passionately inspire their students and directly influence their success. Rather, the money is going other places and no students know exactly where this is; however The Belltower is currently investigating the issue of tuition increase and its potential relationship to professor compensation and student fees.

Students stay at this school because of the professors, not because of the people who formulate a positive image of the university to the public. Professors bring success to the school and they do not reap the benefits of this success. Officers, Deans, Directors, and Trustees set the rules and see the benefits as displayed through their total compensations listed in the tax forms.

While relaxing over spring break, do not forget to look out for the email with the deceptive subject title. It would benefit students at Saint Martin’s if they questioned this upcoming tuition increase, rather than simply ignore the email or accept the tuition spike as normal. If normality includes marginalizing adjunct professors, denying tenured professors promotions, making the school more elitist and funneling funds to administrative positions rather than the actual teachers, then students must strongly reject this injustice and take action against it. Students are those who provide the funds for the decision-makers anyway, right?

 

Many topics touched on in this piece are still under investigation and will be continued in future issues.

1 http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Snapshotx.aspx ?unitId=adaeb1afb0ad

2 http://www.stmartin.edu/finance/TaxAndAuditInfo.aspx

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