Where do your tuition dollars go?

Hans Khoe, Staff Writer

When taking in the beauty of Westmont’s campus, it can be easy to forget the money spent on such an institution. This money can be provided through donors and alumni, but a good portion of the wealth comes from tuition payments. Through communication with Westmont’s administration and WCSA, the Horizon wants to inform students on how most of your money is being spent and why there are increases in tuition.

After considering money covered by financial aid, here are the numbers: The net tuition from all students covers 68% of the college’s overall operating budget expenses. Net tuition also covers 100% of Westmont’s academic and co-curricular portions of the budget. 

The academic and co-curricular portion of the data is what concerns students most as it includes Westmont’s entire academic program, the library, Student/Campus/Residence life, the Campus Pastor’s office, athletics, health/counseling center, shuttle service, Records office, Admissions, Financial Aid, Intercultural Programs, and Career Development & Calling. This section can be broken down as the following: 61% of tuition goes to the academic programs, 11% to academic support functions, and 28% to various student services. 

For a more in depth look, let’s look at WCSA’s budget to understand how money allocated to the student government is spent. Over one semester, WCSA is alloted $23,000 ($167 per student) in student fee dollars. During the fall 2019 semester, they had a total of $27,546.81 with $4,546.81 carried over from the previous semester. They used student fee dollars to pay for expenses ranging from stipends ($11,850) and Take a Professor to Lunch ($5,000), to things like finals week snacks ($400) and Van Kampen’s new water bottle filling station ($2,000). 

On a tangential note, tuition has been on the rise due to increased enrollment and higher expenses that come with living in Montecito. For reference, the 2018-19, 2019-20, and the eventual 2020-21 academic years’ tuition were, respectively, $59,600; $61,240; and $63,220. The resulting percent increases thus fall around 2.75% and 3.23%. 

Reasons for increased tuition can be attributed to three categories: Inflation, increased operating costs, and health/property insurance. Inflation accounts for most of the increase as the percent increases fall slightly below the US inflation rate of 2.5% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Operating costs are next in terms of understanding the increase. Due to the expanded amount of spending needed for things like academic programs and alumni giving/donations being down, the fiscal accountability required to manage Westmont’s money is left to Doug Jones, VP of Finance at Westmont College. In his role, he oversees much of the budget and handles the different departments on campus. He also works to make future income streams for the college. His current project is to earn the school $250 million over 10 years of which Westmont is 3-4 years ahead of schedule (~$80 million). However, considering that this funding is over 10 years, the college still falls short of its operating cost. 

The last reason for increased tuition comes with raised health and property insurance expenditures. Especially after the Tea Fire, Thomas Fire, and mudslides, insurance has skyrocketed for the school resulting in a 25-30% increase of approximately $100,000. For all these reasons, tuition has gone up at a reasonably higher rate than usual. 

Greater transparency will hopefully offer a platform for students to learn and ask more about how their tuition is spent. “WCSA wants to allow students to understand more of where their money goes. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity and frustration,” notes WCSA Business Manager, Ashley Masso. On top of that, things don’t seem to be getting better. Masso recognizes that “the burden is then put on us to think through these numbers. For example, dorms are not being improved. The goal was to get more leeway in understanding how money works for us at this institution.” With this increased clarity, both organizations hope for further clarification on this prominent issue. WCSA will go into more detail in their upcoming podcast where they will interview Doug Jones on his job and the challenges that come with it. Besides that, any further questions regarding tuition can be directed to WCSA or the Horizon as this is an issue we all care about.