Tuition Letter from President Reiss
January 13, 2014
Dear Parents and Friends of Washington College:
A few months ago, in November 2013, the Board approved and authorized my recommendation for the coming 2014-15 academic year that tuition be raised by 3% and room and board 6%, for a total of $1,788, or 3.5% over the current year’s total charges.
As I wrote in my letter to parents last year, “There is a direct connection between the quality and quantity of educational opportunities we can provide our students and the costs these entail. Yet I know it appears that these costs only seem to go up.”
At a time when many are criticizing higher education for a variety of perceived and sometimes real deficiencies, it is natural for you to question our ability to control costs and operate efficiently. To demonstrate Washington College’s ongoing commitment to efficiency and to earning your support, last year I placed the College’s current operating budget online. I have done so again this year, at the following link: http://washcoll.edu/2014budget
This year I would like to go even further and share with you some specific ways in which we have invested in enhancing the educational experience at Washington College through tuition, gifts and grants to the College.
Investing in Our Students
During the past three years, we have made significant investments in our curriculum, our physical plant, our career services, our academic support programs and our extracurricular experiences for our students.
Academics at Washington College continue to grow stronger to ensure students the best learning experience possible. Last year we hired new faculty in Biology, Mathematics, Environmental Science, Anthropology, Drama, and English. This year we are filling or expanding faculty lines in areas such as Psychology, Economics, Business, Computer Science, Sociology, and Education. We are particularly pleased to have launched a new major in Environmental Science.
Infrastructure improvements included the complete renovation of the Miller Library, more than doubling the size of the Johnson Fitness Center, and adding a Hillel House for Jewish Life. The Library renovation was made possible by a State grant, while the two other enhancements were funded entirely through private philanthropy. These have added immeasurably to the quality of life on campus.
We have invested more resources in our Career Services Center. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous Board member, we are hiring another full-time person in Career Services to help build on our strong record for helping students to secure well-paying jobs and launching them on their way to successful careers. This individual will increase the number of premium summer internships for all of our students and job opportunities for those graduating. Our Washington College to Wall Street program has been very popular, and we have seen how important the externships and shadowing experiences we coordinate are for freshmen and sophomores.
We have also invested in developing new programs, creating new opportunities, and enhancing academic and social support services for students. In addition, we have increased funding to support students’ summer science research with faculty and have paid travel costs and conference fees for students in many major fields to present their research findings at national and international conferences.
Internships have also become increasingly important as Washington College understands the need to integrate classroom and experiential learning. Our Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives devotes the majority of her time to providing information about internships to students and faculty, advising students about appropriate internships and helping students apply for competitive internships. We have also invested considerable funds for students to experience unpaid internships that they otherwise might not be able to afford, helping them with the costs of travel or lodging, and thereby enhancing their attractiveness for the job market or grad school.
Further, we are doing even more to ensure students succeed academically. Increased staffing and tutoring hours are provided in the Quantitative Skills Center and the Director is developing on-line and in-person tutorials linked to specific courses. The Office of Academic Skills now provides a wider menu of workshops on college-level study skills and strategies. Additionally, we have invested in state-of-the-art adaptive software, which is especially useful for students with learning disabilities, though available to all students who want to improve their study strategies and develop higher-level critical thinking skills to enhance their success in college and their careers.
Life outside of the classroom is also strong and contributing greatly to the students’ overall experience. We have increased opportunities for students to play club and intramural sports and have increased leadership opportunities and training for students. This year we are offering a new leadership development workshop for our first year Presidential Fellows.
By providing the strongest College experience possible, we are keeping Washington College distinctive and providing the best value for students. We are also careful to address how costs impact students and families. For example, we have always welcomed students to take more than the typical 16 course credits per semester at no additional charge. The vast majority of our peer institutions charge more when students take additional courses, treating their education as an a la carte menu, to use a culinary metaphor. We, on the other hand, encourage intellectual curiosity and ambition by making ours an all-you-can-eat intellectual buffet. We considered changing this policy to increase revenues for the College, but the Parents Council thought that doing so would discourage students from exploring the richness of our curriculum and satisfying their intellectual curiosity. I agreed and we are keeping this distinctive feature as is. Because of these and other investments, Washington College is today a much stronger and more successful institution than it was only a few short years ago.
Controlling Rising Costs
There are few higher priorities for me than the careful financial stewardship of the College. Since I arrived at the College in July 2010, salaries for faculty and staff have lagged slightly behind the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. Yet there are some costs I cannot completely control, such as energy, health care and food.
The upward trend in health care costs has been a particular concern for some time. Washington College has traditionally not charged students for health care (with the exception of select services like flu shots) or billed parents or insurers, stemming from our longstanding commitment to encourage students to use our health services. This past fiscal year, our health care costs have exceeded half a million dollars. Left uncorrected, these costs would force me to pay this expense by eliminating or making deep cuts in other budget lines, including academic programs.
So last year, I asked some members of my senior team to study this problem, explore how other institutions have addressed this issue and suggest how we might arrive at a better way to allocate these costs. After considering all the options, they determined that the best one for balancing costs with ensuring that students have the highest quality care was to institute a student health fee, a model that is used successfully by our peers. We have set the fee for FY15 at $125 per semester. For eligible families, this fee will be covered by federal financial aid. Although this fee will not fully cover the costs of our health care services, it will allow us to continue to provide high-quality health care and counseling services to all of our students.
What We Do and Why We Do It
The value of a Washington College education is getting increased recognition. For the first year ever, Washington College was included in the highly respected Fiske Guide to Colleges, now inits 30th year of recommending the “best and most interesting colleges and universities” in the nation. Washington College is one of 344 schools in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Ireland to be included in the 2014 edition.
Late last month, Washington Monthly magazine named us to its new list of colleges that offer the “Best-Bang-for-the-Buck,” which it defines as colleges in the U.S. that “do the best job of helping non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.”
In 2014, the Princeton Review again named Washington College as one of its Best 378 Colleges using a combination of student surveys and data. The guide describes Washington College as a place where students report they are “gaining a distinctive and strong education in the liberal arts through personalized programs and hands-on experience,” and a place where “students learn to think outside the box while becoming better people and having the time of their lives.” Campus life is rated, “as good as a college experience can get,” and the faculty is praised as “world class professors” who love to teach and “bend over backwards to ensure your education.”
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Each of us at Washington College has the privilege of working at this historic institution and doing what we love. Every day we get to help guide a remarkable group of talented, energetic, and creative young people so they can tackle hard problems, pursue their passion, and prepare themselves for positions of responsibility and leadership to help our community, state and country. This is our calling. We deeply appreciate the trust you place in us.
In these times of uncertainty, we are more confident than ever of the enduring value of a Washington College education and the difference it makes in the lives of your sons and daughters.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
With best wishes,
Mitchell B. Reiss