University Tuition: It’s More Than Just the Flowers

The University offers one of the lowest tuition rates of similar private schools in New Jersey, according to William Craig Vice President of Finance for the University. “The schools that are real competitors among that group, such as Seton Hall, Rider, and Fairleigh Dickinson all have tuition rates that are significantly higher than ours,” he said. For the 2012 to 2013 school year, Rider University tuition was $32,820, Fairleigh Dickinson tuition was $32,852, Seton Hall tuition was $33,740, while Monmouth University was $30,390.

University tuition is consistently raised “about five percent,” according to Dr. Robert McCaig, Vice President for Enrollment Management, while tuition at other colleges can be raised up to 12 percent some years. He said, “I would like to stay a fraction percentage-wise higher than Seton Hall University, Rider University, and Farleigh Dickinson University. A quarter percent, a half percent, just to catch up a little bit. But in doing that I wouldn’t want to venture over that four to five percent average.”

According to, the average amount of college debt incurred by a 2012 undergraduate was about $27,000, a 58 percent increase since 2005.

It is due to factors such as these that propelled President Barack Obama to propose various tuition reform concepts for public and private universities in his State of the Union Address delivered on Feb. 12 of this year. The projected plan involves a series of changes; such as demanding colleges that receive federal aid to produce a “College Scorecard” that gives actual costs, graduation rates, and probable earnings for graduates. The plan will create a $1 billion fund to deliver grants to states that expand graduation rates and reduce costs, increasing campus-based aid to more than $10 billion from the current $2.7 billion, and punish colleges that control tuition by shifting money to other schools that do a superior job.

Basically, the plan here is to create a working “marketplace” where students are provided with the information to make responsible educational choices and colleges are forced to disclose real values and compete with one another to set forth the best tuition rates.

McCaig, commenting on the College Scorecard, said, “Although there is redundancy between the federal shopping sheet and what the state wants to do and the net price calculator, the point is still a good one: greater transparency. You don’t want colleges trying to hide, which some colleges still do. There is a difference between cost of attendance which includes indirect costs; car insurance, eating, personal expenses and direct costs; tuition, fees, room and board. We do cost of attendance.”

McCaig explained that some schools use direct cost, “They look better by a few thousand dollars until somebody explains to them you are looking at an apple and a pear. The point is everyone needed to be more transparent- public and privates- and that is being realized so we will take some of the redundancies and extra work because it’s better for all involved.”

According to Dr. Kevin Dooley, Dean of the Honors School and political science professor, some of the parts of the plan are designed to help students receive an education who would be less willing to take on the risk of college debt, which, in the past, has meant that these students were less likely to attend college. He said, “I think the bill has a chance to work for students who otherwise would not have an opportunity to attend college in the first place.”

Dooley said that some of the upsides of the bill are the expanding of Pell Grant recipients, how the American Opportunity Tax Credit has allowed students to receive up to $10,000 over a four-year period, and post-graduation incentives like the Industry Partnership that provided almost $1 billion to help community colleges offer career preparation. However, he also said that some of the downsides are how spending in a time of a stagnant economy will never be popular among members of Congress who are running for reelection in 2014, the bill does little to provide for the issues that are causing people financial hardships in the first place. The College Scorecard may contribute to a deeper customer service model of higher education.

President Paul G. Gaffney II said that it is too early to tell how the bill could affect the University. He said, “We have a pretty good handle on our expenses and we will be ready to address any federal mandate. I do worry that there could be pressure to reduce tuition without commensurate relief from the expenses of many required regulations. One can’t demand a cut in costs without some regulatory relief.”

Historically, the cost of four-year public college tuition has tripled since the 1980s, which has outpaced both inflation and family income. According toThe New York Times, from 1982 to 2007, tuition and fees increased 439 percent. In this same period, median-family incomes rose 147 percent. In the past year, student loan debt topped $1 trillion and for the first time in history has exceeded credit card debt.

Provost Thomas Pearson said, “I think the reality is that the Obama Tuition Reform Bill is going to put a lot more pressure on MU. Most of the other data we provide is clearly marked and I think we are in good standings with the federal government in how we present ourselves. Even if you’re doing a good job, the pressure is going to be on institutions to do an even better job in terms of controlling costs, showing the added value, and making the information readily available. That means that as we try to control costs, there will be even more pressure in documenting what we do which paradoxically will drive up costs. We are trying to balance all of those things.”

The increase in tuition nationwide is somewhat caused by declining state support for higher education in the past three decades. Some of this is due to reduced government funding. Gaffney said that the University has missed out on about $10 million in the last three years combined. According toThe Grapevine, an annual report on higher education funding published by Illinois State University, 41 states reduced funding for colleges and universities for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. Of these, 14 states reduced funding by more than ten percent. As a result, students have turned to loans. In the last decade, federal college loan debt has more than doubled in the past decade from $41 billion to $103 billion, according to the College Board.

McCaig said, “I think the federal government needed to get involved because what we are doing in higher education isn’t sustainable. You can’t keep giving universities less federal and state money and expect them to charge less. Parents and students also expect more and more. You want to see flowers. Relatively new residence halls. A dining hall with some variety. We don’t have any classes over 35. This isn’t cheap. You have to do it [control tuition] in a responsible way.”

However, this is not the only reason why tuition rates have increased over the years. College is no longer a place where you go to class and then go home; instead, it is a complete social experience and students, understandably, expect more from their colleges than they did in the past. Craig said that some things that add to the cost of school are largely things that have become expectations such as technology, Internet, having cable TV in residence halls, and having fitness centers; all things that didn’t exist on college campuses 15 years ago. Craig continued, “The student demands affect price. The budget is pretty much balanced, and now if you say I want to add to the expenses either you have to find an expense that isn’t as important and you take it out or you have to find some more revenue, and remembering in our case, 90 percent of our revenue is coming from the students. It probably means that the students are going to have to pay more if you do that.”

Some prospective students think the price of college is the listed sticker price, which tends to be around $50,000 a year. However, few students attend these schools and even fewer pay the sticker price; eight out of ten pay an average of 40 percent lower, according to Also, financial aid is widely available. The maximum Pell Grant is over $5,000. Tuition tax credits now reach $2,500. A minimum of $9,500 each year in federal student loans is available to every undergraduate family.

McCaig said, “One of these reasons our financial aid operation is successful is because we have very candid conversations about affordability. We are not trying to recruit students who can’t afford this experience. We don’t want them to come for a year and then realize they’re broke and then leave again, that’s not good for them and it’s not good for us.” McCaig continued, “There is such a thing as a net price calculator, which is now mandatory in higher education, and now with a 95 percent effectiveness rate without your FAFSA, you can see how much scholarship you will get and how much you will have to pay out of pocket.”

The University is also good with scholarships, McCaig explains. “Close to 100 percent of our students get institutional aid from MU and they keep it for all four years as long as they don’t screw up.”

The University tuition and fees, not including room and board, will amount to $31,018 for the 2013 to 2014 school year, an increase of $1,308, according to Craig.

The University budget must be balanced each year to meet the increases and decreases in costs as well as fund projects, staff and activities. The budget will then determine the amount that tuition will increase. The budget is calculated based on a comprehensive budget model that has been followed for the past 20 years. The model allows the members of the committee to evaluate the sources of revenue, capital projects, expenses for the coming year, and available amounts for each department. The comprehensive budget model is based on a three-year plan that allows the board to plan financially for the coming three years. The University costs are then subtracted from the revenues and the remaining balance is distributed to each department. The costs in the University differ each year, causing the tuition increases. Costs such as staff salaries, health benefits, and medical insurance increase each year.

The purpose of the three-year budget program is to prepare for future projects that the University will need. The three-year budget program can also be an asset for parents and students. “We decided that we were trying to control tuition and keep tuition increases in a band that made it easier for students and parents to project where their tuition might be in the next four years, which not all colleges provide for students,” Craig concluded.

McCaig said that you could even argue that the University tuition cost is too low. “We are more than $4,000 cheaper than Rider University, a school in which we rank higher than academically. That’s ridiculous,” McCaig said. “Our academic credentials are better than Drew right now and we are $3,000 cheaper than them.”

Pearson said that when you compare the University to public institutions, if you factor in the various discounts offered, it compares well. “Some of the publics may be a bit less than us, but then there is the whole equation of the value of our degree. I think the important thing is what is the student looking for in a college education? Some students don’t mind being one of a number. If you go to a prestigious research institution to a named faculty, many times a student won’t develop a relationship with the member but here, we pride ourselves on the rapport between the faculty, who are teacher scholars, and they also connect with students,” he said.

Pearson continued, “Another significant difference is that public institutions will cost less, but it takes longer to get through because of scheduling the classes where they have been hit by state cuts. There has been a cutback on instructional support which means it takes longer for students to graduate so you get the sense of yes, you may spend a little less but you will spend more time there and when you get out, will you have the support of a faculty member or other resources that a private school can provide?”

Another factor that must be considered when acknowledging college costs is added fees that schools are charging outside of tuition costs.

Over the years, the University has reduced a number of fees by absorbing them into the University budget, explained Gaffney. “We have tried to keep our fee structure as simple as possible and we have eliminated a number of separate fees while I have been here,” said Gaffney. These included the elimination of the Graduation Fee, Commuter Parking Fee, Motorcycle Parking Fee, Medical Technician Fee, Maintenance of Matriculation Fee, Workshop Fee, Transcript Fee, Summer Session Comprehensive Fee and Late Registration Fee.

Rider University charges a $125 technology fee, Fairleigh Dickinson University charges a $800 technology fee and Seton Hall University charges a $650 mobile computing fee, while Monmouth University has included technology fees in the budget which is paid for in tuition.

Alysha Zimmerman, sophomore business major, said that she wished tuition was lower. “I think we receive a better education than some of my friends do at public schools, but I still think we pay too much.” Zimmerman said that the University should take funding away from landscaping and put it towards clubs and organizations.

What many students are not aware of is how the University compares to other schools. “I hear that we are expensive, but when I show [students] a comparison of our price to other private universities they know, their concern usually evaporates,” said Gaffney.

“I believe that all college tuition is overpriced and I think any college student at any school will agree with me,” said Rocio Serey, freshman psychology major. “I think the tuition set for the University is fair because of all the resources we are given, the fact it is a liberal arts school, and the surrounding community we are in.”

Louis Garbarini, junior communication major, said that he had a friend leave the University because she could no longer afford tuition. He said that if he were able to take funds from one area, he would choose landscaping and he would put it towards student activities.

Out of the $152 million budget for the University for the 2012 to 2013 school year, about $424,000, or about a quarter of one percent (0.28 percent), is designated to Buildings and Grounds, which funds the equipment, landscaping, supplies, plowing, utilities, road repair, and other similar costs for the University. Out of this, the flowers cost about $10,000 per school year, which amounts to 0.0066 percent of the total annual budget.

McCaig said, “I am more nervous this year than I have been in the eight years I have been here. This year, for families who meet certain parameters and who have a high gap of unmet need will get around $2,000 dollars in their package to meet this. The reason we are doing this is because we did two big studies last year and it showed that of the students who left us last year, 47 percent had above a 3.0 grade point average. That kills me. When we looked at why, it was because their unmet need was above 50 percent after grants and scholarships so we are trying to give them a little extra because we don’t want good students to leave us.”

Many students complain that they think that landscaping is where a majority of University funds go. Pearson said, “When I came here 35 years ago, the place did not look very good. The building we were in; the roof would break open and the rainwater would pour in all the time and Facilities would have to come in and mop it up.” Pearson continued that the idea of tidying up the campus and having a good building plan is very important. People are more comfortable studying and working on a campus that looks nice and one in which they can consider their home.

McCaig said, “I don’t want to look like the other institutions because students are not getting the same education. You don’t go to places where you can walk to the beach and go to Philadelphia, have internship opportunities, and have a 3.38 average. Monmouth is a too well-kept secret.”