By Emily Harris
Many Washington College students know life on a budget is never easy. WC has a budget of its own and part of that budget comes out of the pockets of every student on this campus. Since the cost of a WC education is something that directly affects everyone on campus, it’s not unreasonable to wonder where all of the money actually comes from and where it all ends up.
Vice President of Finance and Administration Mark Hampton has the answers to these questions. “The key thing here is that when you pay money to the College, it’s not like we say ‘Ok this tuition dollar is put here and we’re going to pay faculty salaries,’” he said. “In essence, all of this money flows into a big pot.”
According to Hampton, full-time tuition for undergraduate studies is currently $41,596. This amount excludes the cost of housing, dining, and additional fees. When these costs of living on campus are included, the total reaches an average of $52,602.
Net tuition and fees make up 55 percent of the College’s budget, but the total amount of revenue comes from a number of different sources. Donations to the College also contribute a significant amount. “If you think about the cost of your education and you pull out about two-thirds of it you’re paying, about a third of it donors are paying,” said Hampton.
So where do these numbers come from? The budget director in Hampton’s office is primarily responsible for decisions concerning tuition. “It’s really a collaboration,” said Hampton of the budget. “I work with it, I work with advancement, I work with our vice president for enrollment management, I work with buildings and grounds.”
Hampton said that tuition is actually one of the more stable sources of revenue for the College. Since the Class of 2015 arrived at WC, tuition has increased every year. These increases that current students have seen over the past three or four years relate to a three year rolling average. Essentially, the state of the economy in any given year may affect the cost of tuition three years later, causing a delay in the full impact of economic downturns.
Entering this school year students saw a three percent increase to tuition, though some past years have seen much steeper increases around five percent. Of the five percent increase in the past, Hampton said, “We just didn’t have the flexibility at that time to just absorb that cost. It would’ve meant laying people off, cutting classes, doing things like that that the Board decided was not appropriate and permitted us to raise [tuition],” Hampton said.
The rate of increase is mostly affected by inflation, but there are other factors that contribute. “Really it’s between utilities, healthcare, and then just general inflation. It’s going to cost more to run the place next year,” said Hampton. “That increase is what drives tuition increases.”
“At some point the conversation really comes down to are we going to have to raise tuition and fees. It is an unfortunate but realistic fact that if we don’t do that we have to make choices on the expenditure side that will hurt students,” he said.
Compared to similar institutions, tuition at WC is fairly typical. Tuition increases have also been relatively modest in recent years, according to Hampton. Out-of-state tuition at the University of Virginia, where he was formerly employed, is similar to tuition at WC, but the increases have been more significant. Hampton said, “The increases for this current year at the University of Virginia…were four and a half percent for in-State Students and six percent for out of state students, and that was considered modest for them.”
Tuition may not be considered high based on what peer institutions charge, but students at WC are not necessarily paying the full amount. “Students who apply for and qualify for need-based assistance, on average, their award is in excess of $24,000,” said Director of the Financial Aid Office Jeani Narcum. “This does not include student loans.”
There are a number of variables influencing what WC students pay every year, but they are not the only ones affected by these changes. For the first time in years the decision was made to increase salaries for faculty members. “We have to reflect that if we’re not paying our faculty enough they’re going to go somewhere else. We’ve also got to try to match the market in that regard,” Hampton said.
Amid all of the changes to tuition every year, Hampton supports the mission of the College and seeks to align the budget with WC’s priorities. He spoke highly of the College’s efforts to create a more sustainable campus. “If it’s something around energy savings that’s really exciting to me, because we pride ourselves on our environmental context and our sensitivity to the environment,” he said. “How better to show that pride than to find ways of economizing. The College has done wonderful things in that regard…we’re constantly looking for those sorts of investments.”
Hampton said that tuition is always higher than they would like, but his office makes decisions that will allow the College to continue providing the type of experience WC students are accustomed to. “The Board and the academic leadership here are very committed to improving what we have, and I would say what we have here is pretty incredible already.”