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February 28, 2003

Randel defends rising cost of education at symposium

President Don Randel assured a small but engaged audience at Student Government's (SG) Symposium on the Rising Costs of Higher Education in Hutchinson Commons Tuesday night that their investment in the University of Chicago was well worth it.

"There is no investment you could make with $160,000 at the age of 18 that would produce the kind of turn-on investment that spending $160,000 on this education will produce for you," Randel said. "Not even in the days of the dot-com bubble could you have taken $160,000 and spent it in a way that would return to you, for the rest of your life, the kind of returns that serious studies of economics have shown this kind of giving trend."

Randel was part of the panel created to inform students of the reasons behind annual tuition hikes. Other school administrators on the panel included Lois Stein, graduate dean of students in social sciences, Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of student enrollment, and Donald Reaves, vice president for administration and chief financial officer. Steve Klass, deputy dean of students in the University, served as the panel moderator.

Despite flyers and advertisements put out by SG, turnout was small, though SG President Enrique Gomez found the atmosphere conducive to discussion.

"The size of the crowd permitted us to have a nice discussion with the panelists afterwards," Gomez said. "From all accounts, the event was a successful first step in engaging students in this all-important dialogue."

The event began with Randel's introduction, followed by a PowerPoint presentation led by Reaves illustrating the financial status of the University.

"At Chicago, the primary source of revenue is tuition," Reaves said. "[Chicago] is much more dependent on tuition and fees than is the case at other schools. At Chicago, to a greater extent than in most other schools, the price [to attend the University] is a function of the cost, but it is also a function of the availability of the other sources of revenue."

According to the chart presented by Reaves, student tuition makes up 40 percent of Chicago's income. In comparison, tuition makes up 15 percent of Princeton University's income, which derives much of its income from investments and donations.

Reaves also attributed the estimated five percent tuition increase for next year to the weak economy which he said has decreased the University's endowment and revenue flows, though it has eased cost and spending pressures.

Cost pressures include maintenance of buildings, rising costs of employee benefits, and regulatory compliance from the EPA, IRS, and other government agencies. Spending pressures include library acquisitions, new construction, new student services, competitive faculty salaries and implementation of new technology.

The panel was not limited only to faculty. Holly Bland, a student in the Divinity School, talked about the financial plight of graduate students compared with that of undergraduates.

"Sometimes when I talk to undergraduates, I tease them about how the tuition that you guys pay is actually supporting me. If that's a widespread conception, I'm here to reassure you, it's not true because I am very broke," Bland said.

For Gomez, the event was a success. "The symposium was more about understanding why [tuition increase] happens," Gomez said in an interview a day after the event. "As President Randel mentioned, rising tuition costs are unavoidable and we are, to some extent, powerless to do much about it as an institution. [SG's] concern was that students did not understand why this is so. Yesterday was an attempt not at justifying but understanding the underlying factors that contribute to rising tuition costs."

Some student attendees, however, were not as satisfied with the results of the forum. "It wasn't particularly effective," said Mel Grubbe a third-year student in the College. "It gave the same questions and the same answers. Everyone sort of thinks they don't have a say in the matter and that the administrators won't do anything--more or less."

The University of Chicago's tuition for a student living on campus in fall 2002 is $38,522, according to the College Board. In US News and World Report's recent "Best in Value" survey, which ranked colleges by measuring the school's average contribution to students' financial need packages, Chicago was ranked 22nd among doctoral national universities.