This article was published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Baylor Line and written by Meg Cullar.
The rising cost of a college education can appear daunting. But, university officials say, recent boosts in financial aid are helping students attain their dreams of a Baylor degree.
The numbers don’t lie—college tuition nationwide is going up at a rate much higher than that of general inflation. Even public institutions are not immune, especially those in Texas since the state deregulated tuition in recent years. Tuition and fees at the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, rose more than 103 percent between the academic years of 2001-02 and 2007-08, according to figures reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
As a result, today’s Longhorns pay $7,670 in tuition and fees for the year—or $24,544 if they aren’t Texas residents. Texans choosing to attend Texas A&M University this year paid $7,335 in tuition and fees (97 percent higher than in 2001-02), while the same figure for a Texas Tech Red Raider was $6,783 (94 percent higher than 2001-02).
The bill for tuition and fees at Texas’s private universities is predictably higher. For example, the cost at Texas Christian University rose 65 percent between the 2001-02 academic year and 2007-08, resulting in a price tag of $24,868 for tuition and fees this year. The comparable numbers for Southern Methodist University show an increase of 48 percent, a cost of $30,880 for annual tuition and fees.
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings tackled head-on the issue of rising tuition when she appointed the Secretary of Education’s Commission on Higher Education in 2005. In September 2006, the commission released its report, and in a speech about the report Spellings said that it “described serious shortcomings in accessibility, affordability, accountability, and quality” of the nation’s system of higher education.
Spellings said that, due to complacency and a lack of cost controls, America’s institutions of higher learning are in danger of losing their preeminent position in the world. One of the reasons she cited is that, “College prices have far outpaced income and even healthcare, and our financial aid system remains confusing, complex, and inefficient.” This rapid escalation of tuition has meant that many lower-income students no longer consider college as an option, she said. “And many more lower-income and middle-class students who are lucky enough to attend begin their careers saddled with debt.”
That’s the national picture. Now let’s zoom in closer to home and consider these numbers: a fresh-man or transfer student entering Baylor in the fall of 2001 paid $12,804 in tuition and required fees for the year. In the fall of 2008, students at Baylor will pay a total of $26,084 in tuition and fees—an increase of 103.7 percent. As tuition has steadily increased, however, Baylor has tried to help students by increasing its financial aid offerings. For the 2006-07 academic year (the last one for which there are complete numbers), Baylor awarded $77.9 mil-lion from its own coffers in gift aid, both merit and need based, to undergraduate students. In 2007-08, more than $110.3 million has been awarded to date in institutional funds for all students, including graduate, law, and professional students.
These are numbers that reflect a change in Baylor’s overall approach to tuition—and aid awards—in the last decade or so. While Baylor’s price tag used to lag significantly behind other private institutions in Texas—such as TCU and SMU—it now comes much closer, although still lower. For the academic year 2001-02, Baylor’s tuition was $4,319 below the national average for four-year private colleges, while for 2007-08 Baylor was $778 above the national average, according to averages published by the Chronicle of Higher Education each year.
“Across the nation in recent years, the costs associated with a college education have increased, and Baylor has not been immune from that trend,” Dr. John Tilley, Baylor’s president, told the Line. “It should be noted, however, that during that same time period, growth in scholarship dollars has significantly outpaced tuition increases. Our financial-aid office is committed to helping every student understand the complete cost of a Baylor education, and they work diligently with our students to find the best way to finance their education. More than 70 percent of Baylor students receive financial aid of one kind or another.”
Baylor officials say the shift in the university’s price of tuition is the result of a number of factors, including rising costs, national trends, and underwriting the ten-year strategic plan. A Baylor press release on September 21, 2001, announcing the strategic plan’s approval by the Board of Regents stated that the regents had also “adopted a new tuition structure designed to help fund the initiative and align the institution’s pricing system with its peer universities.” Effective with the 2002-03 academic year, the press release went on to state, Baylor would institute a new flat-tuition rate. Although continuing students were grandfathered in at a lower rate, new students at Baylor saw tuition and fees go up by 34.4 percent that year.
Since then, the average increase in tuition and fees has been more than 7 percent per year at Baylor, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Meanwhile, according to the Chronicle, the average tuition and fees of four-year private colleges in the U.S. went up by 6 percent or less each year from 2001-02 through 2006-07, but then jumped by 6.7 percent before the 2007-08 academic year. At the same time they were raising tuition prices, Baylor officials significantly increased financial aid offerings. Last fall, the university announced that, of incoming freshmen who qualified for need-based financial assistance, Baylor provided more than 50 per-cent of the funds needed in direct scholarships. In the last ten years, Baylor has increased institutional gift aid five-fold. Institutional aid includes both merit-based aid and need-based aid and comes from designated endowed scholarship funds as well as out of Baylor’s general operating fund.
But despite the growth in aid awarded, many alumni and parents worry about the financial accessibility of Baylor, especially for those whose incomes are in the middle range. While students from lower-income categories often qualify for generous amounts of aid, and those in the upper incomes can pay their own way, critics of Baylor’s cost say that some students are caught in the middle.
What is Baylor doing to help such students? How do those families pay for a Baylor education? How aid money is awarded and who gets it is complicated, to say the least, and the answers are as varied as the students. Consider three students, none of whom qualified for need-based grants or scholarships, which don’t require repayment.
Gary Guadagnolo, a senior University Studies major, attracted the attention of Baylor officials as a model high school student who scored high on tests, ranked toward the top of his class, held var-ious leadership roles on his campus, and was an Eagle Scout. In addition to a merit-based scholarship awarded because of impressive SAT/ACT scores and high school class rank, he also benefits from the Carr P. Collins Scholars Program and the Dr. and Mrs. Zack Bobo Jr. Scholarship Fund. Even though the scholarships are not need-based, Guadagnolo says he wouldn’t be able to afford Baylor without the financial help.
“My parents had saved up and were willing to pay for me to go to a state school,” he says. “They were happy I wanted to go to Baylor, but I had to make up the difference somehow.”
The Collins scholarship is a competitive award given to only eight incoming freshmen each year and based primarily on leadership and community service. To maintain that assistance, Guadagnolo must perform sixty hours of community service each year. The Bobo scholarship also lasts for four years and is awarded to students from the Arlington area. Guadagnolo’s high school counselor, who graduated from Baylor, was a big help, he says. “Ifs been a real blessing that I was able to get significant scholarships to match what my parents were doing. Not everyone has that opportunity”
As a Baylor student, Guadagnolo has held up his end of the deal admirably, becoming the kind of student Baylor can brag about. He has a 4.0 GPA, is in the Honors Program and the Mortar Board Honor Society, and has won numerous honors, including a prestigious U.S. Department of State scholarship to study abroad last summer. After graduation, he plans to study in Russia for a year and then return to the U.S. to pursue a PhD. “I’d love to become a professor,” he says, “and maybe come back to Baylor one day.”
Fallon Rice, a junior accounting major, is also the kind of student Baylor wants on campus. She has a 3.64 overall GPA and is one of the students chosen to teach in Baylor’s Supplemental Instruction program in accounting, in which she tutors younger Baylor students. She holds leadership positions in numerous honor societies and in her sorority, speaks often on Baylor’s behalf to high school recruits, and has won leadership awards. In addition, she is African American, and Baylor has clearly stated its goal to increase minority enrollment.
But Rice is struggling to pay for her Baylor education. She’s racked up more than $100,000 in loans, and her grandfather recently went back to work to help her out. She did earn a merit scholarship, but that dollar amount stays the same each year while tuition rises, she notes. “I’m doing better at Baylor than I did in high school, yet I can’t get any more assistance based on that,” she says.
“My dad is a pastor, and I’m the oldest of four, so they really aren’t able to help me much,” she says. The family applied for need-based aid, Rice says, but didn’t qualify for anything other than loans and work-study. She’s hoping that when her younger sister enters college this fall, it will help in recalculating her aid package. Mainly, she’s just trying to make it until January 2009. Then she will be finished with the undergraduate accounting program and will enter a three-month internship in accounting, for which she will be paid. And if she scores well on her entrance exams for graduate school, she could qualify for tuition remission for her year of graduate work. She is confident about landing a high-paying job at a big accounting firm after graduation, so she’s not worried about repaying her loans.
“I love Baylor, and I feel like Baylor is doing a great job to prepare me,” Rice says, noting the stellar passing rates of Baylor students on the CPA exam. “But if the tuition is going to be that much, they really need to provide more help.”
Chris Porter found himself in a similar situation, but he chose a different solution. Having grown up in Waco with a mother who is an alumna, he had always wanted to come to Baylor, and he did just that in the fall of 2004 as a freshman education major. He earned a merit scholarship, which, he says, “cut off a little bit, but we still had a hefty amount of loans.” His family didn’t qualify for need-based federal aid or work-study—only loans.
After a year at Baylor and some uncertainty about his goals, Porter was asked by his parents to consider enrolling at McLennan Community College for his sophomore year, until he figured out what he wanted to do. While there, Porter definitely decided to become a teacher. But considering a future on a teacher’s income, Porter and his parents decided he should look around before returning to Baylor. He decided to enroll at the University of North Texas (UNT) instead. “They have a great teaching program, like Baylor, but at a fraction of the cost,” he says. “I wish I was at Baylor,” he adds, “because I liked Baylor a whole lot more. But I understand that it wasn’t feasible without going into a lot of debt.”
When he first enrolled, Porter wasn’t eligible for merit-based aid at UNT. But recently he’s raised his grades and received an e-mail from the school asking him to apply for merit-based aid based on his current GPA. “You fill out a questionnaire, and they will match you with scholarships,” he says. “There’s no guarantee, but I fit the qualifications for more than thirty of them, so I hope I’ll get one.”
Porter expects to graduate from UNT in May of 2009—one year late—with a debt in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000.
ABCs of financial aid
To figure out what makes the difference from one student to the next—and what it takes to get financial aid—it’s helpful to have a rough idea of how the awarding of aid works at Baylor.
Baylor begins with a system of merit-based scholarships that are awarded up front—upon admission. The awards are based on a combination of SAT/ACT scores and high school class rank. For incoming freshmen, there are four different levels of scholarship available, beginning with the Dean’s Gold Scholarship, which, for the 2008-09 year, offers between $2,000 and $5,000 per academic year. The top level is the Regents’ Gold, given to National Merit Finalists who select Baylor as their first-choice college, and it offers up to full tuition.
Beyond the merit awards, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as it’s commonly known. This is submitted to the federal government, which establishes an “expected family contribution” based on family income, savings, the number of students in college, and many other factors. Then the accepted student gets a package from Baylor, explaining other financial aid. This can include direct gift aid that doesn’t have to be repaid—like Pell Grants and the TEG (Texas Equalization Grant)—as well as federally subsidized loans (which carry a lower interest rate than unsubsidized loans) and work-study Baylor also awards need-based scholarships from its own coffers.
Many students may want to know this kind of information even before they apply to Baylor, and the university is doing its best to help them. Two tools on Baylor’s financial aid website are invaluable to high school students considering Baylor.
The first is the “Scholarship Calculator.” Students can fill in their exact SAT or ACT score and their rank in their high school class, click “calculate,” and Baylor will tell them how much they will be awarded in merit-based aid according to their input.
Even more helpful is the “Financial Aid Estimator,” but it’s also more involved. Baylor was the first university in the nation to offer such a tool when it went online in the fall of 2006, says Jackie Diaz, Baylor’s assistant vice president for financial aid. Prospective students and parents, with their most recent tax return at hand, can enter information similar to what’s requested on the FAFSA and get an estimate of need-based and merit aid.
“I’d recommend that students, even if they think they won’t qualify, go out and try the estimator,” Diaz says. “It’s completely anonymous, and you can get an idea of whether you will qualify without filling out the actual FAFSA. Many people think they won’t qualify for anything, when in fact there are many scenarios’ for families to receive aid. Let me caution, however, that this is not a substitute for completing the FAFSA. That step must still be completed before any need-based aid can be awarded.”
In a typical year, Diaz notes, about 85 percent of those who submit the FAFSA qualify for need-based aid. In 2006-07, more than 92 percent of those who qualified actually received some sort of gift aid, she says.
Baylor’s estimator will determine the yearly “expected family contribution.” It will calculate the merit scholar-ship based on scores provided and come up with an estimate of federal aid, state aid, and Baylor institutional need-based aid. These online tools can really help prospective students determine what they will need to pay, Diaz says.
“When I was in school I think everyone paid full tuition,” says Dr. Reagan Ramsower ’74, MSEco ’76, Baylor’s vice president for finance and administration. “During the latter part of the 1990s, the entire higher education industry began to change and began to offer scholarships that were targeted toward attracting the highest quality students to enroll. The word ‘scholarship’ should be explained, because in these cases there is no endowment behind the scholar-ships. Instead, we simply reduce the price of tuition to make Baylor more attractive for high-quality students to attend. It’s the way, during the last decade, that universities have been attracting students who have high SAT or ACT test scores and who graduate at the top of their high school class.”
Ramsower says tuition discounting became more prominent in Baylor’s scholarship mix when the university went to a flat tuition rate in 2002-03. “The average discount these days is around 35 percent nationwide, and that’s pretty much where we are as well,” he says.
Baylor is offering a combination of merit and need-based aid to help as many students as possible succeed. “We’re not just looking for students,” Diaz says. “We are looking for graduates.”
The use of tuition
Ramsower acknowledged that an increase in faculty numbers has had an impact on Baylor’s tuition level, but he notes that it has pro-vided more teachers for students. While the faculty numbered 697 in the fall of 2001, there were 913 faculty members in the fall of 2007—although enrollment for those two semesters was virtually the same. “When the Lariat asks me, ‘Is tuition always going to go up?’ I have to ask back, ‘Are faculty and staff salaries always going to go up?’ They don’t have to, but it sure is painful when you say, `No raises this year. The great faculty we have hired have also allowed Baylor to expand our undergraduate education in both breadth of programs and depth of knowledge.”
These days, Baylor is relying more heavily than before on tuition income to pay those costs, according to the “Baylor Trends” document prepared by Baylor’s Office of institutional Research and Testing. More than 75 percent of Baylor’s total revenue came from tuition and fees during the 2006-07 fiscal year. That’s up from about 66 percent in 2000-01. At the same time, the percentage of funding from every other source went down during that span of time—with the exception of investment income, which remained the same.
Baylor’s overall tuition rate is affected by many factors, Ramsower says. Each year, his staff creates a number of scenarios to present to the Baylor Board of Regents, which officially sets tuition rates.
“Underlying all of our annual budget planning and tuition planning is a long-term financial model,” Ramsower says. “It’s a pretty complicated model that stretches out over ten years and makes assumptions about tuition, endowment earnings, and other revenue sources, as well as growth in faculty and staff costs, computer costs, and other various expenditures. It also takes into account the future impact of commitments we might make today, such as the need to replace a supercomputer in five years.”
This long-term model, he explains, is based on Baylor’s long-term goals—as outlined in Baylor 2012. And several components of that plan, particularly the benefits of added faculty and additional faculty support, have higher costs associated with them.
“Certainly to have recently moved to become a research university has to become a research university has required expenditures that would not have been required otherwise,” he says. In some disciplines, he says, grant dollars will come in to pay for research. “But there is generally an incubator phase before you get to that level,” he notes. “Particularly in the sciences, there are some initial costs to the university in starting up labs and purchasing equipment.”
In addition, Ramsower says, “Growing graduate programs provides less tuition and requires more expenditures than under-graduate programs because graduate students receive stipends and tuition scholarships. However, graduate students provide many valuable services to the university at rates that are often below market.”
Awarding merit scholarships also lowers net tuition revenues, Ramsower says. “A portion of a tuition increase is also not realized because we discount the tuition for high-quality students. We think in terms of net tuition revenue, which is tuition after discounting,” he says.
The recent addition of world-class facilities—such as the Baylor Sciences Building—represents another addition to Baylor’s costs, Ramsower notes. And it’s not just the cost of constructing the building. “Any building brings with it infrastructure costs, new utility costs, new maintenance costs, new operating costs—even if someone donates the building,” he says.
“People have a right to criticize the strategic direction of the university,” he says. “They have the right to say that it wouldn’t be the way they’d do it, but it is the way we’re doing it. I feel very good about the direction Baylor is taking, and I agree with the aspirations of this administration; that’s the Baylor I would like to see. I have a First Families of Baylor plaque on my wall, and I think all those past generations—going back to Ethel Lattimore Higginbotham, who was in the first class of women at Baylor—would be very proud of what we have done and where we’re going.”
Of course, escalating tuition is not unique to Baylor. But that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to pay the bills.
Why does college cost so much? “With the nature of higher education, particularly the residential, classroom-based higher education that Baylor values, it’s hard to get productivity increases,” Ramsower says. “You could increase the size of classes or have graduate students teach more undergraduate classes, but that wouldn’t be a Baylor education.”
Ramsower observes that many schools are cutting costs by offering distance learning and computer-based classes—but again, he says, that’s also not what a residential Baylor education is about. “We certainly make maximal use of technology to sup-port our classroom education, and we always strive to hold down operational costs,” he says. “But the benefits of small, personalized classes taught by professors instead of graduate students is the hallmark of Baylor. Outstanding teaching will always be the priority.”
John Barry, Baylor’s vice president for marketing and communications, says the expectations of prospective students and their families also plays role in rising costs. “It’s a false dichotomy to look at what it cost to go to a certain college or university twenty years ago and compare that to what it costs at the same university today, because the nature of the university experience and the services that are provided have changed so much during that time,” he says. “You can’t look at just the cost side without looking at how the product has changed.”
What families are getting for the money today is something very different, Barry says. “In the olden days, you had Sloppy Joe night on Tuesdays in the dining hall, and Sloppy Joe was what you got,” he says. “Now you’re supporting mall-style food courts. When I was in school, you had the gym, and the gym was what you got. Now you have a full exercise recreation facility that includes all kinds of equipment, services, and amenities like rock-climbing walls and customized swimming pools. We’re also staffing and paying for a range of new initiatives, such as in-residence faculty, student success centers, and 24/7 public safety organizations—to name just a few. Students and their families expect and appreciate services of this type, but they have cost implications.”
Dr. Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University and a member of the Spellings Commission, says there are lots of reasons that college costs continue to rise and that productivity and efficiency issues are a big part of why higher education is expensive nationwide. “There are a dozen or so rea-sons that costs have gone up,” says Vedder, who’s written a book on the topic. “A very important one is that a lot of the higher education bills are paid by a third party—by the government through grants or by philanthropists who fund scholarships. When some-one else pays the bills, the customer isn’t as sensitive to the price.”
Another cost driver, Vedder notes, is that universities “have no clear incentives to cut costs like a private company does.” Unlike a private company, there’s no profit margin or stock price to boost, he says. “The chair of a department probably views his or her role to increase the budget and add as much faculty as possible.”
And tuition discounting has certainly contributed to the rise in sticker price, he says. “Schools are trying to buy some good students to raise their U.S. News ranking, so they give those students a deal,” he says. “If a school’s primary goal is prestige and to raise rankings in U.S. News and World Report every year, the way you do that is to get the best students you can and to turn a lot of them down, because that looks good and means you’re more selective. And you hire a lot of faculty in relation to the number of students, because that’s a factor. In short, you spend quite a bit of money.”
But Vedder says that this system is reaching a saturation point, as evidenced by recent actions taken by Harvard University and other high-ranking schools regarding tuition. In December, Harvard announced a new policy whereby families making between $120,000 and $180,000 in income will pay no more than 10 per-cent of their income on tuition at the school, and it will charge its lowest-income students nothing. The Ivy League institution has totally eliminated loans from student aid packages. At Stanford University, families making below a certain income will pay nothing in educational costs. Other schools—including the University of Pennsylvania, Pomona College, Swarthmore College, and Davidson College—have eliminated loans from aid packages and tried to replace them with grants.
Elite schools, especially those with enormous endowments, are responding to government pressure, like the report from the Spellings Commission, Vedder says. School officials fear that the government will step in with regulations on how much endowment they should be spending and other cost regulations, he notes. “My opinion is that they’re doing this to head off legislation,” he says. He also believes that the actions of these schools will eventually “ripple down” to more “typical” schools like Baylor.
Vedder believes that institutions like Baylor will begin to find that continuing to raise tuition is a problem. “A lot of people are getting to a threshold,” he says. “It’s one thing to raise tuition to $20,000 or $22,000, but when you get to $40,000, those numbers are very shocking to all but the very wealthy. People are starting to say, (No, we can’t do it: The old answer was borrowing the money, but people are getting scared of loans, and lenders are getting scared to lend to anyone.”
He also noted that the gap between earning potential for high school graduates and college graduates has ceased to grow. “That means the payoff for college in terms of vocational success is staying about the same, but the cost of getting that ticket to vocational success is getting more expensive, so the rate of return on the investment is starting to fall,” he says. “Therefore, you can’t just keep jacking up the price or people are going to start looking at alter-natives—state colleges, community colleges, the Internet.”
Feeling the pinch?
While Baylor’s retention and graduation rates have been pretty steady since the incoming freshman class of twenty years ago, other numbers that administrators are closely monitoring have soared. A record number of prospective students applied for the fall 2007 freshman class-26,514, with an acceptance rate of 44 per-cent. Last fall Baylor enjoyed the second highest overall enrollment in school history-14,174. In addition, average SAT scores are on the rise, with the fall 2007 freshman class sporting a record-breaking average of 1218, an increase of nearly forty points over the past five years. In addition, the 2007 freshman class increased its minority enrollment, hitting the 29 percent mark.
While Baylor officials say they are trying to find the perfect mix of freshmen—those who can handle Baylor both academically and financially—it’s hard to tell if anyone is getting cut out of the mix. The only data on student family income is provided by the FAFSA, and about 40 percent of Baylor undergraduates don’t submit that document—an indication that those students and their parents believe their income level is too high to receive need-based aid.
For those who do submit the FAFSA, the average family income number has risen only slightly—roughly in keeping with the inflation rate—and now stands at $71,000, according to Ramsower. And Baylor officials say they don’t believe Baylor has any gaps in income groups represented on campus. “I continue to see a gamut of students, from those who have a zero expected family contribution to those who pay the full price,” Diaz says.
Nevertheless, many alumni—especially parents of prospec-tive students worry that recent increases in tuition have made Bay-lor less affordable for middle-class families. In the mid-1990s, according to Baylor press releases, the school consistently ranked high in the nation for “Best College Values” in U.S. News and World Report. And Baylor just picked up a “best value” nod from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, coming in at thirty-eighth on its list of fifty private universities, based on academic quality and afford-ability. Baylor was second lowest in total cost among those schools.
Vedder and Baylor economist Dr. Kent Gilbreath share a concern about the upper-middle class—those in the $60,000 to $70,000 income range—and how they will afford college for their children. That’s especially an issue at Baylor, Gilbreath says, because it affects Baylor’s traditional customer.
“Tuition increases over the past several years have made it increasingly difficult for Baylor’s traditional middle-class families to afford to send their children to Baylor,” he asserts.
Gilbreath led the economic team for a “Societal Trends Committee” appointed by Baylor President John Lilley. In March 2007, the committee presented its findings and reported that economic trends in general bode well for Baylor’s future because of the pre-diction of continued growth in personal income. But, they also said, “Barring changes in Baylor’s tuition policies, the university will need to increasingly look toward students from wealthier families to fund the university’s ambitious academic goals. The fundamental reality is that, unless there is a sharp increase in Baylor’s endowment for providing scholarships or unless new, creative tuition financing initiatives are developed, lower-income students will constitute a shrinking proportion of Baylor’s student body.”
The committee also reported that the movement of the student body to reflect greater wealth “presents a disturbing challenge to the egalitarian traditions of Baylor’s historical Texas Baptist constituency.”
Helping students pay
Using the Baylor’s online Financial Aid Calculator, it’s easy to see how hard it would be to afford college on a middle-class income.
Consider John and Lisa, our imaginary couple. Their family income is $67,000, and they have two students in college. With cash and savings (not including retirement) of $20,000, net worth of investments (not including their home) at $50,000, and no student income—but cash and investments of $31,000 for the student—their expected family contribution is $12,723.
Their son made a 580 on the math section of the SAT, a 590 on the verbal, and he ranked twenty-fifth in his high school class of three hundred. That earned him a Provost’s Gold Scholarship of $7,000 per year. He was also awarded $8,240 in need-based gift aid for a total of $15,240 per year in gift aid. With student employment and $3,500 in subsidized loans for his first year, his total aid package is $21,390.
But the 2008-09 estimate for total costs at Baylor tops $40,000, so John and Lisa still need to come up with nearly $19,000 per year to pay for their son to attend Baylor. That’s significantly higher than the $12,723 the government estimates they can afford. And don’t forget, they have another college student. It’s going to take all of their savings and more loans—plus a heck of a summer job—for John and Lisa’s son to attend Baylor.
Ramsower says, “It’s critically important to us and a major goal that the socioeconomic composition of the Baylor student body should not change from what it was, that the increase in tuition would not create the charge of an elitist university, and that our profile would not be altered. At the same time, we’re trying to build a more ethnically diverse student body, and we’re achieving that.”
But Ramsower acknowledges that the total cost of attending Baylor has risen with the rate of tuition. “In 2001, those who had financial need had an average of $14,560 of total need, which includes tuition, fees, room, board, books, and other miscellaneous living expenses,” he says. “By this fall, that average need had gone to $25,731, which is an increase of 10 percent per year. But that’s the need before their aid. During this same time period, 2001 to 2007, tuition discounts and scholarships rose more than 30 percent per year.”
After the awarding of discounts, scholarships, work study, and low-interest federal and state grants and subsidized loans like the Pell Grant, Ramsower says, the average amount that students and their parents actually had to pay to attend Baylor was $4,000 in 2001 and $7,000 this past fall. That increase is only a little higher than inflation, he adds. “Our goal is to raise enough endowed scholarships to cover the $7,000 average, out-of-pocket need,” Ramsower notes.
That’s what the University of Notre Dame does. Since 2001, Notre Dame has had a policy of supplying aid to meet 100 percent of a student’s need as determined by the FAFSA. The school does not offer merit scholarships “to lure exceptional students into the mix,” according to its alumni magazine. But if a family fills out the federal forms and pays its expected contribution, Notre Dame will help them find the rest.
Baylor officials say the best way to help students of all socio-economic backgrounds attend Baylor is to continue to build the endowment—a major goal of Baylor 2012, but one that has been more elusive than others. After all, a large endowment is what has allowed schools like Harvard and Stanford to make the moves they’ve made. Baylor’s endowment topped $1 billion last year, and the goal of Baylor 2012 is to reach $2 billion.
“A critical focus of our upcoming fundraising campaign is growth in the number of endowed, need-based student scholar-ships,” President Lilley says. “We believe in the profound value of a Baylor education, and we want to make a Baylor degree possible for all of those students and families who share our passion.”
Ramsower says that the administration’s goal is to cover all the costs a student incurs by attending Baylor, beyond his or her family’s expected financial contribution based on combined family income.
“The first endowment dollars, in my mind, would go to the lower-level incomes to cover their full cost of attendance,” he says. And when more scholarships are available through endowment, Baylor will rely less on tuition discounts, he says. “Then those tuition discount dollars can go back to provide things, from faculty salaries to growth in strategic areas, without having to rely as heavily on tuition. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
In the meantime, Baylor officials believe that the university still offers a unique experience—a top research university with a Protestant tradition—at a reasonable price and will continue to attract students. And, while higher education experts like Vedder claim it’s hard to measure outcomes for universities, Baylor officials believe the university’s goals are clear. Those administrators say they are doing their best to build the endowment and offer enough scholarships to bring the price within reach of most students, but they acknowledge that they have a long way to go to raise enough endowment to make Baylor affordable for everyone who would like to come.
It’s a cold, hard fact that colleges nearly everywhere, including Baylor, cost a lot. The more revealing question may be whether or not Baylor is worth the extra money and effort it takes to attend. Do students think they are getting a good educational value? According to results of surveys of current students, the answer is a strong yes.
In a survey administered by Baylor during summer orientation, nearly 91 percent of incoming freshmen said Baylor’s educational value was “somewhat” or “very” important to them in making a decision to attend Baylor. And more than 46 percent said Baylor offered them more merit-based financial support than other universities at which they were accepted.
First-year students also responded positively about their Baylor experience in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which since 2000 has surveyed students about their involvement in practices considered linked to learning. The survey assesses these five categories: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. Baylor students responded positively more often than the national average at other universities categorized as “high research.”
The NSSE also surveys seniors, who had similarly positive things to say in the survey, which was reported by USA Today in November 2007. Seniors ranked most of their experiences even higher than the freshmen did, and answers from Baylor seniors were above the average at other universities categorized as “high research” in every category.
On the NSSE survey, Baylor excelled especially at two questions that provide an overview of students’ entire college experience. When asked, “How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution?” 50 percent of freshmen and nearly 60 per-cent of seniors responded “excellent?’ That compares to averages of around 40 percent at what Baylor calls “peers with similar characteristics,” including BYU, Pepperdine, Oral Roberts, and Seton Hall. Averages at peer research institutions, including Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, and Purdue, were 30 percent. And when asked if they would go to the same institution if they could start all over again, nearly 60 percent of Baylor’s surveyed students said “definitely yes,” versus under half at peer schools and barely 40 percent at peer research universities.
The students we met earlier in the story, even those who have struggled to pay for Baylor, believe their educational dollar is well spent at the university.
“It’s very much worth it if you can afford it or if you’ll have a profession where you can pay back your loans,” says Chris Porter, now a UNT student. “I really liked the environment. Baylor’s a top-notch university and they’re trying to make it even more so.”
Fallon Rice, who will graduate from Baylor with a heavy debt to repay, says that she thinks paying her own way has made her more appreciative of her Baylor education. “I do love Baylor,” she says. “I love the experience—you get what you pay for.” Rice says that, because she realizes the value of her education, she’s trying to get the most out of it—keeping her GPA high, participating in many activities, joining a lot of organizations. “If I had it made, maybe I’d be satisfied with a 3.5, but I want to get the most value I can.”
When Gary Guadagnolo was deciding where to go to college, he also considered TCU, SMU, and A&M but quickly realized that Baylor was right for him. “All the pieces fell into place,” he says. “I could tell Baylor was the place for me.” So it was worth it to research the scholarships, fill out the applications, and write the essays to make it possible, he says.
“When you have a private school like Baylor, you know the price is going to be higher,” he says. “But I would say that a majority of my classes have been with less then fifteen people, especially in the upper levels. It’s worth it to be in an environment where learning really does flourish and the professors are interested in you and know you by name. One of the biggest parts of a Baylor education is that it takes place outside of the classroom as well as inside, with opportunities for leadership and involvement. Hands down, the value of a Baylor education has been great.”