April 8, 2022 | OPINION | By Deksyos Damtew | Illustration by Xixi Qin
If you haven’t heard, tuition is going up. With the increase comes a variety of concerns about staff compensation, what this means for students on financial aid, and why this place keeps getting so expensive. In consultation with campus leadership, the college’s Campus Budget Committee, and yours truly, I’ve crafted this quick guide to CC’s financial structure to tell an “it’s complicated” story about the tuition increase.
As a student on financial aid at the school, I know the first question that should be answered about increasing costs: how will this affect those who can least afford it?
Shannon Amundson, the CC Director of Financial Aid, provides some comfort, saying that “as a school that meets full need, the tuition increase doesn’t affect students on financial aid.” Tuition at CC helps pay for financial aid, so if a student’s family’s demonstrated need stays the same, the college will “raise grants to meet the cost of attendance.”
This isn’t to say the college can’t devote even more money to financial aid, but at least we can rest easy that this tuition increase won’t immediately impact students on financial aid. Let’s now turn to how finances at CC even work in the first place.
Where does all the college’s money come from?
The College’s Operating Budget comes from earnings on our endowment, tuition, grants, and annual gifts. Confused about what I mean about “earnings on our endowment?” For a brilliant explanation, read former Student Trustee Elliot Williams ’21 article for the bulletin CC Financials 101.
We can think of funds at CC in two buckets, restricted and unrestricted revenue. Restricted funds, like the initial gift for Ed Robson Arena, have strings attached, meaning they can only be used for an intended purpose laid out by the donor.
Only looking at unrestricted revenue, Co-Chair of the Campus Budget Committee Professor Dan Johnson tells us that “tuition makes up over 85% of all revenue.” When it comes to money available for distribution by decision makers at the college, tuitionmakes up almost the entire story.
Where does the unrestricted money go?
Johnson goes on to explain that around half of tuition revenue goes to employee compensation and a quarter to financial aid, which leaves about a quarter for all other expenses. Our tuition dollars cover most of what allows CC to function. Whether we agree with how it is all spent right now is up for debate, but understanding where the money is in the first place can help shine light on areas we might want to focus on moving forward.
Who gets to decide where the unrestricted money goes?
There are three main groups that take part in financial decision making at the college: the Board of Trustees, the Campus Budget Committee (made up of staff, faculty, and students) and campus leadership. The Campus Budget Committee serves in an advisory role to two places where power is concentrated: the Board of Trustees and the President of the College.
The board of trustees makes “broad reaching decisions,” such as the cost of tuition and the amount of money we set aside to bring students on financial aid to the college, according to Johnson. Then, President Richardson makes decisions about distributing funds between divisions of the college such as Student Life and the Faculty and the Vice Presidents or Deans of these divisions make decisions about the allocation of funds.
I was surprised to learn from Johnson that Vice Presidents and Deans of different divisions can submit a form to the Campus Budget Committee to advocate for an increase in funding. While the President makes decisions about the distribution of funds, students can influence the decision-making process by bringing concerns to the Campus Budget Committee. This Committee has two student representatives appointed by the Colorado College Student Government Association, whose applications are now open (and in your emails), to represent students on this committee next year.
Is this financial model sustainable?
Long story short, no. As someone who couldn’t dream of affording the sticker price of CC, it blows my mind that so many of you are able to. It also creates a peculiar effect that has been described as somewhat of a “barbell.” Much like the shape of a barbell, CC has a lot of students who are really wealthy (this one’s for you 1%ers out there) and a lot of students who have fairly large financial aid packages relative to the cost of the college, with very few students in-between. While Colorado College has employed strategies such as the Colorado Pledge to counter this effect, we still have a long way to go when it comes to diversifying our student body.
This guide is far from comprehensive and should raise more questions than it answers. But I hope it provides some context and helps explain why I think of a tuition increase as an “it’s complicated” story. I also encourage y’all to keep asking questions. Students deserve to know where all this money goes. I’m sure with some creativity we can think of a way to ditch this system and to find one that works towards meeting the needs of students.
Student Body President
Colorado College Student Government Association