February 3, 2012

Board of Trustees Chair talks tuition, trauma center

Courtesy of Renard Miller

Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees Andrew Alper (A.B. ’80, M.B.A. ’81) discussed the University’s financial standing, the demand for a trauma center, and other student concerns at the quarterly Trustee breakfast with 25 students yesterday morning in the West Commons of South Campus Residence Hall.

Reacting to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in which he said that schools that did not rein in rising tuition rates would receive fewer federal funds, multiple students asked about the U of C’s financial future. The University’s endowment, now on the rise, did not suffer as much as those of its peer institutions during the recession, Alper said. A buoyed endowment, Alper said, helped the University retain faculty and attract students.

Many students were also concerned about the rise in tuition prices and lack of financial aid. Alper explained rising tuition rates using the economic principles of supply and demand; the demand for a U of C education is high, Alper said, so the University can increase tuition prices.

In this situation, he said, the demand is higher than supply. People often voice their frustration over raising costs, but at the same time, increasing numbers of students want to come to the U of C.

Alper said that new programs that increased the attractiveness of the University, such as the Logan Arts Center and expansion of study abroad programs in China, have been supported by tuition increases. He added that the Board of Trustees is aware that new programs must be balanced with tuition increases.

Continuing on the theme of balance, Alper mentioned the decision not to create a trauma center at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). Alper, who is also on the UCMC Board, recognized the desire to provide for the community.

“The medical system in this country is completely broken,” Alper said. However, he added that the costs and capacity required to operate a trauma center on the South Side are not feasible.

“It’s a question of balance. If we do that, what can’t we do?” Alper said.

Students also asked Alper about Harper Court development on 53rd Street, and the biggest challenges for the University over the next 10–15 years.

When asked about the future of a liberal arts education at the U of C, Alper defended the University’s commitment to broad thinking.

“Liberal arts education is the most valuable thing you can get,” he said. “There is a common DNA of UChicago alumni.”

—Additional reporting by Douglas Everson