Tuition Increase Has Students Worrying about Loans

Freshman Chris Jones always planned on going to college; after visiting many schools on the East Coast, he chose McDaniel because the financial aid he received would cover most of the tuition. The school was able to offer him exactly what he wanted: a college education at a small price.

“If I didn’t want loans, I had to come to McDaniel. Financial aid was a deciding factor and it seemed like a good fit,” he said. Now Jones is a biochemistry major and is able to focus on his education rather than his college debt.

Awards like Jones’ usually do not fully cover the $36,960 tuition price tag of an education at McDaniel College. Many students rely on loans and other means to pay the difference — as well as room and board, which is $8,640 for the 2013-14 school year.

Even though the tuition is increasing by 3.2 percent, McDaniel still offers a great value for a private, liberal arts education. More than 90 percent of students at McDaniel College receive financial aid made up of scholarships and need-based aid. The college invests more than $29 million in grants and scholarships and was named number 86 out of 200 of the best values in private liberal arts colleges by Kiplinger’s.

The total operating budget for the school for the 2013-14 school year is $58.9 million, according to Ethan Seidel, vice president of administration and finance. Salaries and benefits account for 57 percent of the college’s expenditures, followed by 16 percent for departmental funds, and 7 percent for food services. The rest goes to maintenance, utilities, insurance, equipment, and debt.

Graduate and undergraduate tuition accounts for 80 percent, $48 million, of the college’s total revenue, which is $59.9 million. That is followed by the college’s endowment, $4.3 million, 7.2 percent of the total revenue for the upcoming year.

Seidel explained that the financial aid given to students is essentially a discount on their tuition. If every student paid full tuition, the revenue would be around $55 million; the total discount given to students for the 2013-14 school year is $31.6 million, leaving $23 million towards the total operating budget of $59.8 million.

“Think of it as just revenue that was not collected,” he said. “We are a non-profit and we are here to educate,” he said.

There are some students who do not qualify for financial aid because of their monetary situation. Freshman Peter Comitale receives just $5,000 a year towards his tuition because of his family’s income.

Comitale said his large tuition bill is “tough to swallow, especially because I’ve only been here for about a year and some of the classes I have had I’m not satisfied with.” Comitale worries about the debt he is accruing since he plans to apply to law school after graduation.

In response to students like Comitale who have issues with the college’s finances, Seidel and President Roger Casey held an informational session on campus about the school’s budget and tuition on April 29.

“I think there are misunderstandings about where [tuition] goes and where it comes from,” Casey said, “but it’s not hard to explain if people are willing to listen.” Of the 1,548 undergraduate students at McDaniel College, less than 10 attended the Campus 411.

On average, a student graduating from McDaniel is about $29,000 in debt, according to Kiplinger’s.  The national average debt of students graduating from a four-year institution in 2011 was $23,000, according to the Pew Research Center.

Sophomore Brad Heavner said he will have close to $75,000 in loans when he graduates from McDaniel College. Heavner is a double major in sociology and Arabic and would like to work for the government after graduation.

“It’s scary that I am going to have to pay back that much money, so I’m hoping that I will find a job that will pay for my loans and for me to go to grad school,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine having more loans than that, but I know there are other people who do.”

McDaniel has a relatively small price tag compared to other similar schools in the area. Tuition at Goucher College, another private liberal arts institution, costs a total of $38,462 for the 2013-14 year. According to their website, they offer financial aid to about 80 percent of their students. Gettysburg College, a larger private liberal arts institution, gives financial aid to only about 67 percent of their students; their tuition is $45,870. In contrast, Towson University, a large public university, has a tuition of $8,132 for in-state students and $19,754 for out-of-state students.

Colleges across the country are raising tuition bills and McDaniel is not exempt. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1980-81, the average price of a private institution was $9,535 and jumped to $27,293 during the 2010-11 school year. Transportation and utilities are both factors also affecting McDaniel’s tuition increase for 2013-14.

“I already had to take out a loan for next year, which was a bummer, but now I think I have to take out more because they raised the price,” said freshman Jasmine Nunez. “It’s stressful, but that’s just how it is.” Without financial aid, Nunez said she would be unable to attend college.

The tuition increase over four years can make it even harder for a student to afford college.

“I was recently talking about the tuition increase with a friend who is a senior and he said that McDaniel was almost $5,000 cheaper when he started out,” said freshman Comitale. “That makes a huge difference in someone’s money situation.”

In response to students who have concerns about the tuition increase, Casey said that the administration does the best they can to keep tuition low.

“When you want small classes and individualized attention with a lower ratio of students to faculty,” he said, “the costs are going to be higher.”