College officials defend next year’s 3.9 percent tuition increase

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Author: Damian Mendieta

The General Assembly hosted Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein and Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Brett Schraeder Thursday night to answer student questions concerning the 3.9 percent tuition hike for the 2012-2013 academic year. While less than last year’s five percent increase, students will still have to pay $1,600 more for tuition and $400 more for room and board.

Himmelstein defended the college’s tuition increase by comparing Occidental’s 3.9 percent raise to 7.5 percent increases at other institutions but failed to give specifics as to why the college needed to raise tuition.

Economic concerns outside of Occidental, specifically in the Los Angeles area, factored into the college’s decision to increase tuition.

“It’s a volatile, unpredictable economic environment in the United States and the rest of the world,” Himmelstein said. “We are not in a little bubble on our own.”

According to Himmelstein, the college must increase tuition to maintain the liberal arts experience for students.

“In order to [stop increasing tuition], we would have to cut things we already do now,” Himmelstein said. “Liberal arts colleges like Occidental are expensive, and they have also ramped up the tuition in the last 10 years.”

Schraeder and Himmelstein agreed that Occidental’s financial state is more precarious due to the college’s relatively low endowment of $300 million, compared to Claremont McKenna’s $543 million and Pomona’s $1.7 billion.

While the Occidental website says that academics comprise 75 percent, Himmelstein said that Occidental’s tuition hikes came from rising costs outside of the realm of the academic budget.

“We have other costs to buy other than goods, such as insurance, utilities and employees,”

Himmelstein said. “We are at the mercy of the market.”

At the General Assembly meeting, students also voiced concerns about financial aid awards and a rise in student loans in light of tuition hikes. According to the Office of Financial Aid, 75 percent of enrolled students receive financial aid, with the average student receiving $21,324 in aid. Student financial awards total $28.8 million in annual expenses for the college’s annual budget. According to Himmelstein, tuition increases would help increase the amount of student aid because tuition paid by full-time students makes up a lot of the money that goes into other students’ financial aid packages.

“Financial aid is a large portion of our tuition dollars, and a large percentage is coming from tuition, not endowment,” Himmelstein said. “For a lot of other schools it is the reverse.”

Occidental’s endowment could not replace annual tuition payments as funds for financial aid anytime soon, Himmelstein said, and that increasing the endowment would require large donations.

“We are not going to double our endowment anytime soon,” Himmelstein said. “But if we are, it will come from large gifts.”

Occidental’s financial aid packages depend heavily on tuition rates, and a decrease in tuition could potentially hurt the college, Himmelstein said.

In an attempt to reduce its growing economic burdens, Occidental has begun offering early retirement for staff members with substantial years of service, Himmelstein said in response to a student question. At the General Assembly meeting Himmelstein affirmed that the college has also begun to consider outsourcing landscaping and custodial jobs on campus, a move that would lead to the dismissal of full-time staff members. Urban and Environmental Policy major Guido Girgenti (sophomore) spoke against the outsourcing of jobs as a remedy to alleviate Occidental’s economic challenges.

“I would not want to pass on hardship to another working class family so that I can avoid financial hardships as I pay for college,” Girgenti said.

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