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Opinion: Divesting from Ignorance

The month of April has finally arrived, and with it the unbelievable: actual spring temperatures in Boston.  In many ways, spring is considered a time of renewal--we have renewed sight of previously snow-covered grass, a renewed sense of disappointment in several of our athletic programs and dutiful Americans have been renewing their allegiance to the United States by filing their taxes. Here at Boston College the 43% of the student body receiving need-based financial aid is renewing their commitment to spending another year at BC, via financial aid applications also due April 15th.

Recently, the Board of Trustees even renewed the University’s operating budget for the 2015-2016 academic year.  Included in this budget is once again another tuition increase of 4.0% from $46,670 to $48,540.   While need-based financial aid will see an increase of $6.1 million as well, the question must still be posed as to why tuition continually rises at a rate far beyond the U.S. inflation rate--only 1.6% for the year 2014.

A recent New York Times op-ed, “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much” derides the assertion that cuts to public funding for education have led to an increase in tuition costs for students over the past several decades--an argument that admittedly may or may not be 100% bulletproof.

However, its counter-argument does bring to light a very valid point.  It argues that, “a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration.”  Furthermore, the author points out data found by the U.S. Department of Education shows administrative positions at colleges and universities have grown by 60% from 1993-2009--10 times the growth rate of tenured-faculty positions according to Bloomberg.

Boston College is no exception to this trend.  From 1975 to the 2013-2014 academic year, BC's full-time faculty grew from 520 to 758, a 45.77% increase.  Professional administrative as well as Secretarial and Clerical support staff on the other hand grew from 636 employees in 1975 to 1,889 by Fall 2014 (excluding part-time employees)--a 197.01% increase.  While enrollment at BC has grown since 1975, this is only by an 11% found entirely in the graduate student population.

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From Fall 2013 to Fall 2014 alone the number of full time Professional Administrative and Secretarial & Clerical staff has increased by 60.  Delving into BC’s Financial Statements, an increase in General Administrative Expenses of over $5 million from $112,833,000 in 2012-2013 to $117,979,000 in 2013-2014 is highly reflective of this trend towards increased administrative spending.

While this is assuredly not the sole cause of increased tuition, it does raise the concern of how the University spends both our tuition, and also the endowment largely sponsored by the people we will one day (hopefully) become--alumni.

Though every year Boston College releases their financial statements and tax returns online, I would venture to say not much concern is given to them outside of university administrators, the Board of Trustees and some number of business-savvy donors.  However, students often forget that we too are stakeholders in Boston College, serving the role of both its present and most assuredly its future.  Due to this, it is our responsibility as well to be aware of how our university acts as an institution, which can be largely revealed through looking at BC’s financial statements.

If students were to take the burden of becoming aware of how BC spends its money upon ourselves it would not take long to find eyebrow-raising bits of information.  Take the $419 million BC has in “investments” (what does that even mean?) in Central America and the Caribbean or the gem below, both as found in their IRS returns for Fiscal Year 2013:


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In reality this is just a small drop in the large bucket that is BC’s endowment, and I am sure the recipients of said memberships have contributed more than their fair share of time and money to BC.  However, this is indicative of a quite concerning trend. Students are clueless as to where the money they invest in their education specifically goes, and alumni are clueless as to where their donations wind up--perhaps on a putting green.

While ignorance of this knowledge in and of itself is bad, the ramifications could very well be worse.  How can there be any public accountability without awareness on behalf of the public itself?  How can we as students ensure the $60+ thousand per year we spend is providing us its maximum benefit when we have no idea what it is spent on?

Yes, rising tuition costs may very well be in some form due to increased administrative costs, but what is driving up costs even more so is our ignorance.  Many students may not care about annual, somewhat minimal increases in tuition.  Twenty to thirty years in the future though when our children attend college, these smaller annual increases will inevitably lead them to suffer in student-loan debt much like our generation is as a result of disproportionate college tuition increases over the past forty years.

The only solution to this is to become aware now of how our tuition is being spent, to release ourselves from ignorance and as a result, apathy.  Higher education in America will only continue to grow unnecessarily in terms of administration, tuition price and otherwise if we show no care that it does.  Now is the time to divest from our own ignorance as to how BC spends the money we provide it with, to question and hold the University accountable and to renew our position as stakeholders in the present and future of BC--it is spring after all.