In May, the Board of Trustees will meet to discuss the approval of a four percent increase in the annual price of tuition and living at Tufts, which will increase to a staggering $61,000. The proposed tuition increase would make Tufts the second most expensive university in all of Massachusetts.
The proposal is expected to be approved and, as with many public and private universities throughout the country, there are legitimate reasons for the increase staying competitive comes at a hefty price. Retaining top-notch faculty and staff, and supporting residential maintenance are just some of the factors that cause costs for students to rise. But Tufts, a national leader in many disciplines, has fallen behind on transparency.
The Tufts community knows where some of its money is spent. Tufts is quick to emphasize its sizeable and significant financial aid spending, which totaled more than $113 million over all degree programs in the 2013 fiscal year, according to auditing documents posted on Tufts finance division website. But, in the same period, operating expenses increased to $767 million and outpaced revenue growth. Of those expenses, 59 percent went to compensation, but the fastest increasing portion was non-compensation expenses, including, depreciation for the new Tisch Sports and Fitness Center, the biology collaborative cluster and the Tufts Administration Building facade and new Tufts Effectiveness in Administrative Management implementation expenses.
That the university provides these figures tucked away on the finance divisions website is good, but it isnt enough. In the 2012-13 Tufts University Fact Book posted on the Provosts site, many of the operating budgets of the universitys schools are provided, without comment. The university could stand to improve the clarity of its financial records by providing historical trends for each school beyond just the previous year, and should try to relate its spending to other comparable institutions within the region and the nation.
Revenue and expense figures, tucked away into documents that are hundreds of pages long and only completely accessible to professional accountants, are essentially useless to students. Tufts administration, through current programs like the Tisch Active Citizenship Summer and new ones like Tufts 1+4, stresses how important active, well-informed citizens are to the university and the world. One way for the university to better inform its students, and to hold itself accountable, would be to offer a simple accounting of where students tuition dollars are spent directly on students tuition bills. With a full and understandable representation of the universitys budget, students will be able to make a fully informed choice between another year of classes and, possibly, a new luxury car. If the university is spending its money well, as it seems to be, that choice should be no choice at all.