The struggles college students endure when it comes to paying for tuition are getting worse and worse every year. Although the College is generally regarded as having a more manageable tuition, it hasn’t been immune to its share of increased costs. So what does the College do to help its students and their families with affordability? David Muha, associate vice president for Communications, Marketing and Brand Management, explained the College’s “three-pronged approach.”
“TCNJ continues to invest in scholarships and tuition discounts for students,” Muha said. “The percentage of TCNJ’s budget allocated to institutional commitment to student financial aid is larger than almost all New Jersey public institutions. TCNJ actively seeks new ways to contain operating costs … (and) identify new revenue sources to support its operations and academic enterprise.”
Students want to know how the College is helping them pay for school and what exactly the tuition goes into. That’s why the Office of the Treasurer has the College’s 2014 fiscal operating budget, which lays out how much money the school receives, how much it spends, and what it spends it on.
The College’s 2014 base budget resources amounts to $225,884,000, including $107,390,000 from tuition and $45,523,000 for room and board. In addition, the 2014 base budget allocations — or the money the College spends — is at $225,143,000. The fiscal operating budget breaks down everything the College uses that money on, which includes salaries expense ($92,649,000), computing hardware and software ($1,349,000), Library Facilities ($1,642,000) and debt service requirements ($28,102,000), among other things.
Muha said many of these allocations are actually influenced by external factors.
“Union contracts are negotiated by (the) state of New Jersey, and thus dictate the level of salaries, fuel and utilities, (which) are driven by market conditions,” Muha said. “Debt service is determined by bond covenants that provide the funding necessary to build state-of-the art facilities or upgrade existing facilities, including the library. Computer hardware and software upgrades and replacements are planned on a pre-determined, cyclical basis.”
In order to make sure the College has the right budget decision-making direction, the Committee on Strategic Planning and Priorities created three principles, which were approved by the College’s Board of Trustees. They are: To preserve the health, safety and security of the students, faculty, staff and visitors, to preserve the integrity and excellence of the educational programs and services through which the College realizes its mission, and to preserve the institutional integrity of the College, including the obligations to staff, faculty and students.
With all of these expenses, it’s important to make sure the College is giving back enough to the students. That’s why, within the operating budget, it says that the percentage allocated to direct student support should be no less than 67 percent of the total educational and general operating expenses. While 61.8 percent of revenue does come from student tuition and fees, 67.3 percent of the College’s expenses go to direct student support.
“TCNJ is obligated to pay for certain fixed operating costs necessary to support the entire College enterprise,” Muha said. “The College determined that, after accounting for those mandatory fixed operating costs, the majority of the remaining budget would be focused on the academic core.”
Granted the accuracy of the figure, it would signal a fair and shared cost between the College and its students.
“If the college is, in fact, using 67 percent of the total educational and general operating expenses toward direct student support in the form of scholarships and financial aid, that is an impressive number and I am pleased to hear it,” junior marketing major Matthew Scapardine said. “However, I do believe and hope that number could be higher because I believe financial aid and scholarships are essential to a truly healthy and thriving institution.”
Still, the constant increase in tuition is an issue. The College saw a 2.5 percent increase in tuition and a 3.2 percent increase in room and board from last year to this year. Muha explained that certain reasons for the increase are controlled by the state.
“Many of the operational costs that require increases in the tuition rate are driven by factors outside of TCNJ’s direct control,” Muha said. “For example, as a public institution, increases in faculty and staff salaries are largely contractually determined by the state of New Jersey. However, although TCNJ is a public institution, state support for higher education has decreased over the years, resulting in a bigger gap between operating revenue and operating costs. There is a direct relationship between the level of state support and the need to adjust tuition rates.”
To combat this, the College is doing its best to help students with scholarships and financial aid, as it invests in institutionally-funded financial scholarships. From last year to this year, College-funded scholarships saw a 3.4 percent increase.
“TCNJ has increased its investment in institutionally- funded scholarships to address the increasing demand for financial aid,” Muha said.
After doing the math, the difference between the base budget resources and the base budget allocations is $741,000 in surplus funds. This money, Muha said, has been used on upgrades to the College’s campus.
“Slide 10 in the (operating budget) shows how that surplus and additional revenues were applied to support such enhancements as additional library acquisitions (and) purchase of new academic equipment,” Muha said.
Even with all of the help the College has directed toward students in the operating budget, it may still, unfortunately, not be enough. Many students have diverse financial situations, and because the general cost of college is monstrous as is, there’s never such a thing as too much help.
“The College does a good job of helping students take advantage of federal and state grants and loans available to college students,” Scapardine said. “However, I would love to see the College’s endowment increase and more grants provided directly from the school to students. Although the ability to do that comes from generous alumni and supporters of the school, ultimately, I would love to see a more robust financial aid program provided by the school.”