By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
The university’s annual tuition increase was announced last week; tuition for next school year will be 7.1 percent higher, or $425 per credit hour.
Although it comes amidst economic concerns that have affected the university’s enrollment, endowment and insurance premiums, the tuition increase was not driven by such factors, said Phil Schubert, vice president for finance.
“It’s in no way, shape or form affected by the investment market,” Schubert said. “We feel we’ve weathered the storm fairly well.”
The school has increased tuition regularly for the past several years. A student taking 15 hours each semester will pay $12,750 next year, up from $11,910 this year. After adding in estimated meal plan and book costs and fees for technology, health, student activity, academic services and loans, the total direct cost to a student is 7.5 percent higher at about $19,335.
Total direct cost-the price most often quoted for tuition costs-saw a larger increase than normal after the estimated average price for books and supplies jumped from $560 to $800. Schubert said the jump was reflective of revised financial aid estimates, not higher Campus Store prices.
Schubert said ACU’s tuition is still in the bottom 25 percent among private universities nationwide, saying the line between low tuition and high quality “is a tough tightrope to walk.”
“We begin our tuition planning with the ideal that we want to stay affordable to as many students as possible when you consider scholarships and grants,” said Jack Rich, executive vice president of the university. “However, we also want to maintain the highest possible quality.”
Government estimates for transportation and other miscellaneous costs are added in for financial aid purposes and make up a larger, total cost. This year, that cost is $22,050, up 6.8 percent, a figure that reflects more on government estimates than ACU probability, Schubert said.
“It’s not ACU that costs that,” Schubert said. “They’re personal decisions. Some students will be much lower; others will be much higher.”
The first fiscal years of the 21st century have been tough ones for higher education in general, and ACU in particular.
A brief recession driven by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, drove stocks down soon after the technology-driven bubble of the 1990s popped. ACU’s endowment has dropped by 10 percent since June 1. Stock market losses accounted for nearly all of the$8.5 million the school lost last year.
“Although the economy is a factor in our budget planning, it was the not the dominant issue as we considered our adjustment this year,” Rich said.
A poor labor market and a stubbornly sluggish economy have combined with post-Sept. 11 travel fears to hold down enrollment at colleges and universities nationwide. ACU posted a slight decrease in enrollment last semester, and a nationwide trend of less charitable giving also is concerning the university.
“Although we’ve been concerned about that, things are moving fairly well there,” Schubert said. The school is in the early stages of the Centennial Campaign, which administrators hope will raise more than $100 million by 2006.
The latest concern has been the multi-billion dollar deficit the Texas legislature is working to reduce this session. Set to be cut is the Texas Equalization Grant, which provides millions of dollars to Texas residents attending private colleges in the state. Schubert said a 10 percent reduction in the TEG is not out of the question.
“It’s definitely something we’re watching,” Schubert said. “We feel we’re in a pretty good situation to spread cuts across the student population in a way that wouldn’t affect many students, if any.”
A 10-percent cut in the TEG would probably mean about 400,000 less for ACU students.
Schubert said endowment, TEG and enrollment concerns could play into tuition considerations for the 2004-05 school year, but that looks unlikely right now.
“I couldn’t tell you whether or not we’ll have an impact for 2004-2005,” he said. “At this point, we’re optimistic.”