In the Spring 2014 issue of Bucknell Magazine, Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman, the authors of Why Does College Cost So Much?, help to demystify and depoliticize the hyper-charged topic of College Cost and College Value.
Q: Bucknell’s comprehensive fee is more than $60,000. Why does it cost so much?
A: As Professors Archibald and Feldman’s essay indicates, private, residential liberal arts universities are built for effectiveness, not maximum efficiency. We have highly educated faculty and staff. We recruit outstanding students. We provide advanced learning tools, technology and spaces on a safe, modern campus. We know financial aid makes it possible for many students to attend Bucknell. It’s expensive to do all that, and more.
Q: Bucknell’s endowment is worth about $700 million. Can’t you use it to constrain costs?
A: We spend about $35 million a year of endowment — or about five percent, covering about 16 percent of our annual budget. We’d love to increase that expenditure and reduce the dependency on our comprehensive fee. That fact explains a critical part of our current WE DO Campaign, where we have set a goal of $150 million in new financial aid endowment. As it is, at this time, our budget relies too heavily on tuition as a source of revenue. The other difficult reality is that on a per-capita student basis our endowment is much lower than those of our peers. If we had the same per-capita endowment as our typical peers, for example, we’d have $25 million, $30 million or even $60 million more per year to allocate toward our budget.
Q: What are you doing to constrain tuition increases?
A: For the last eight years, we have been working diligently to constrain costs and limit the rate of growth in tuition. To further keep tuition from rising, we are developing alternative revenue streams through the WE DO Campaign, which prioritizes endowed scholarships and faculty positions. The campaign also seeks gifts to support new initiatives in a variety of academic areas where we feel our programs can give students greater educational and career advantages.
Q: What about families who can’t afford to pay the full price?
A: We award need-based aid to about half of our families, and around 60 percent receive aid of some form, including loans, grants, scholarships and work-study. For those who take out loans, the average loan debt upon graduation is $22,500, and more than 99 percent of our graduates pay off their loans on time. This low loan default rate suggests that our graduates have the earning power to fulfill their commitments.
Q: Is it worth it?
A: That’s a question every family needs to answer for itself. Professors Archibald and Feldman note the many types of impact a college education can have on quality of life, health and so on that go way beyond earnings. We also know earnings matter. Bucknell’s job and graduate school placement rates for recent graduates are high. The average mid-career salary of our alumni is higher than that of many colleges and universities. In a recent survey, our alumni said their Bucknell experience prepared them for their careers and graduate school, contributed to their personal growth, made them responsible and confident adults and helped them develop lifelong friendships. And the alumni I meet around the world are testimony to the lasting power of a Bucknell education. The evidence is compelling.
From the Spring 2014 issue of Bucknell Magazine.
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