by ROSE BRENNAN, MEGAN DREHER & STEPHEN ZUBRYCKY
Manhattan College’s tuition has been ascending at a brisk pace over the past decade.
For the 2006-2007 school year, a full time Manhattan undergraduate would have shelled out $20,350 in tuition and $9,000 in room in and board for a total of $29,350 annually.
That price–what The Quadrangle is dubbing “the sticker price”–has increased 77-percent over the past ten years to $51,910 for the 2016-2017 academic year.
The cost of college has increased 50 percent in the past 30 years, according to Natalia Boliari, assistant professor of economics, and not all of this increase is being met by increases in financial aid.
This trend–a uniquely American one–has been driven by new forces acting on the higher education market from within and without, and few signs indicate that it will slow down anytime soon.
Tuition’s Long, Uphill Climb
Barring a change in the strategic plan of Manhattan College, the annual rise in cost of attendance is fairly predictable. Since 2014, costs have risen by about 3- or 4-percent annually. But between 2010 and 2013, the cost to attend Manhattan rose 8.4 percent, on average.
This period represents a strategic turning point for the college, according to Matthew McManness, vice president for finance.
“During Fiscal Year 2012, the College made a strategic decision to adjust its tuition and fees rates to make the college more competitive in the current environment,” McManness said in an email, though he did not comment on when students could expect another such event.
But a large chunk of the college’s tuition price remains beyond its direct control, and is under outside influence–like the rising cost of goods and services.
“The cost of goods and services that are associated with the higher education industry has major impact on the operating costs of the college. These are items external to our environment that we do not have control over such as food cost, etc.,” McManness said.
Rising tuition is not something happening only at Manhattan College. Astronomical costs are a new paradigm across American higher education–both in private and public institutions.
Since the 2006-2007 academic year, the average cost of attending a private, nonprofit four year institution as a resident student has increased 49 percent, and now sits at $45,365, according to College Board, the non-profit corporation which administers the S.A.T. exam.
The cost of college would not have reached these heights if not for demand–and demand for higher education has kept pace with its cost.
According to Boliari, demand is high, and evolving. Students today demand different things from students a few decades ago–whether they be fancier, more spacious residence halls, newer facilities or more academic support outlets like tutoring and counseling centers.
“Parents look at where the kids are going to sleep and where they are going to eat. These are things that are demanded by students and their parents in the first place,” Boliari said.
Students and parents are not the only ones putting demand on colleges–employers looking for skilled workers are too.
“Back in the early eighties, the difference between what you would make as somebody with no college education and somebody with a college education was $4,000 per year. Now, the same difference between the salaries of somebody who is not attending college and somebody who is attending college is $12,000,” Boliari said. “Demand for skilled labor increases the price of skilled labor.”
The Road to $51,910
The final number arrived at by the college for the cost of tuition and room and board is years-in-the-making, starting at the end of each academic year in July, when the college’s initial cost assumptions for the academic year are evaluated.
“Once we have made that determination we begin to create the new budget for the next three years,” McManness said. The new budget works in tandem with the college’s strategic plan, which includes big-picture components such as enrollment, facilities and other areas of development.
The process is long and broad, incorporating the entire college’s entire leadership and the board of trustees, utilizing 32 different categories of assumptions.
“Revenue and expense assumptions include counts and projections for every major budget line in the college’s core budget. Once those projections and calculations are made and finalized the college’s entire operating and capital budget is projected,” McManness said.
Still another component factors into the calculations. Manhattan College additionally considers the costs of its competitors when developing its market position.
“Market rates are critical in determining our position related to our tuition rate,” McManness said.
McManness provided The Quadrangle with a list of 23 colleges and universities that Manhattan uses as benchmarks. The benchmark schools include a wide range of institutions, including smaller public institutions like the City University of New York and large, polytechnic universities like Northeastern University in Boston.
For the college’s 2,013 resident students, room and board charges are also a consideration. While $15,010 (the 2016-2017 rate) may seem like a high price for this, it also accounts for aspects of student life beyond just housing and dining.
“It is important to remember that the cost of room and board includes your meal plan, laundry, utilities including cable and Internet, housekeeping, security and support from your RAs; plus the full line of programming and activities that they plan,” said Andrew Weingarten, the college’s director of residence life.
The $15,010 figure is not universal for all residents, however.
Softening the Financial Burden
For many students, financial aid, in its many forms, has become a necessity when paying for college. In fact, there is only a handful of students attending Manhattan College without financial aid.
According to Denise Scalzo, the college’s new director of financial aid, “About 94% of students here are on financial aid, and that includes everything.” The “everything” to which Scalzo refers includes a broad spectrum of resources, such as scholarships, loans, grants and need-based awards, all with varying sources, including state and federal governments, other private organizations and the college itself.
One of the most popular forms of financial aid is the PELL grant, which 25 percent of Manhattan College students receive.
“The maximum PELL award for this year is $5,815 here for 2016-17, and that will increase around $100 for 17-18” Scalzo said.
Students are also awarded the TAP award (a New York State program), the SCOG, and the MC grant. These awards are mainly based off of financial need. The amount a student can receive varies based on how needy the student is.
Students are also eligible to take out loans, and the financial aid office can help students through the process of applying. Federal loans, according to Scalzo, benefit students beyond assisting the cost of tuition.
“We package federal loans, which gives students an opportunity to develop a credit rate,” Scalzo said.
The loan market has evolved in the past decade, and the federal government has become the exclusive creditor of college students.
“Years ago, prior to this administration in office, loans used to go through the banks. Now they go through the federal government. The government assigns a servicer, and then you pay a servicer back for your loans. So there’s really no opportunity for you to shop around. It’s one place now that you can go to to apply for a loan,” Scalzo states.
The financial aid office also oversees the disbursement of work study funds. This is an on-campus employment opportunity, where eligible students can work to earn a paycheck.
“It doesn’t come off your bill, it just gives you an opportunity to develop skills, like answering phones, that you’re gonna need later on when you get a job,” Scalzo said.
Financial aid takes a significant chunk out of the cost of a Manhattan College education.
According to the federal government’s College Scorecard program, the average annual cost for a federal aid recipient attending Manhattan College is $28,117, which is 46 percent less than the college’s $51,910 sticker price.
According to Boliari, economists tend to disagree on whether or not the financial aid model is the best option for higher education.
“Some economists would say giving financial aid is bad news, others will say ‘no, it is good.’ The debate is those that argue that financial aid can attract too many people and kind of erodes the value of education. Some people who wouldn’t go to college without financial aid end up there,” she said.
But ultimately, Boliari thinks that the benefits of financial aid outweigh the costs, making college more accessible to a greater slice of the population.
In the Financial Aid office, the staff is well aware of the increase in tuition and how challenging it could be for those trying to attend school. But as tuition increases, so does the amount of financial aid available. “We budget financial aid, there’s no set dollar amount,” Scalzo added.
“We try, when students come in who have problems with tuition increase, we look for other options for them to pay,” Scalzo said, “We try to counsel students with their stresses of how to pay.”
“If you do well here, we’re going to help you,” Scalzo said.