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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A ranking to avoid at all costs

Published: August 24, 2012
Section: Editorials

University administrators and trustees eagerly waiting to see where Brandeis lands in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings this fall should focus on a different list. Published by the Boston Business Journal in May, a tuition-costs ranking lists Brandeis as the second most expensive college in Massachusetts, behind only Williams, and ahead of Boston College, Boston University and nearby Babson.

Brandeis earned its place in the top five with an increase of 4.1 percent for returning students and 4.85 percent for new students, which was approved by the board of trustees in the spring.

Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel sent an email in April announcing the increase. He justified it as necessary to decrease class sizes and the number of incoming first-year students, while also maintaining a commitment to need-blind admissions.

Flagel classified the tuition increase as significant yet still lower than peer institutions.

“By careful resource allocation, at 4.1 percent we are likely to find our increase in the mid-range of peer institutions, which will continue to keep Brandeis well out of the range of the most expensive national institutions,” Flagel wrote in April.

The rising cost of college education in America­­ and the hardship it brings for working and middle-class families will not be solved by one school. Yet our issue with the university’s response is that we expect Brandeis to lead in solving this problem, not follow.

Highlighting the university’s core principles in his inaugural address at Symphony Hall in 1948, our first president, Abram Sachar, emphasized three ideals: “An institution which is built on such principles—on the integrity of learning and research, on the passion for service, on the right of equal opportunity—only such an institution will be worthy of the intellectual and spiritual mantle of Louis Dembitz Brandeis, whose name it is to bear.”

Few can doubt the school’s commitment to these three ideals. But many today question whether Brandeis, in practice, presents equal opportunity to all students. Increasing tuition to become the second most expensive college in the state builds an insurmountable barrier for too many. Middle-class families do not care about explanations and justifications—even if they include increased financial aid for some. They care about the impact on their own financial hardship.

Yes, class sizes are important. And, as a young institution, our endowment and fundraising lags behind other schools. But making financial decisions requires a list of priorities in a carefully organized order.

For next year, keeping tuition costs from rising should be at the top. Doing so will require new voices, increased fundraising and creative planning starting this fall.

The U.S. News rankings list measures yield, acceptance, graduation and retention rates. But more than any of these statistics, tuition costs reflects our school’s values and character.

If the newly hired chief operating officer, Steven Manos, finds the workload of managing this university’s finances overwhelming at first, we suggest he focus on achieving one goal this year.

He should ensure Brandeis is no longer ranked in the state’s five most expensive schools. We do not belong there.

Manos boasts an impressive resume, including 26 years of experience at Tufts University. With much anticipation, we look forward to a new voice with fresh ideas and creative approaches to help restore the uncompromising ideals established at our founding.

And next April, we hope administrators will advocate freezing the cost of tuition, and we hope trustees will listen. Students who are struggling to pay tuition bills, and parents who do not make hundreds of thousands of dollars each year like those in university administration, would greatly appreciate it.