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Editorial: Well-endowed but at what cost?

Published: November 3, 2006
Section: Opinions


After reading Brandeis Universitys self-study for reaccreditation by the New England Association for Schools and Colleges (NEASC), one gets a sense that the university is generally making steady progress in becoming a more competitive institution, both academically and financially. The number of applications has increased, while the acceptance rate has decreased. Many of the issues Brandeis was criticized for during its 1996 self study, including lower-than-average faculty pay and an inadequate IT infrastructure, have been either fully or partially addressed.

The schools administration seems most enthused about Brandeis improving financial performance. According to the study, the school has tripled its endowment, to more than $550 million. In the October 10th Justice, Provost Marty Krauss celebrated the schools financial improvement: Krauss said the improvement of the University's finances has put the school in a very sustainable place now, where we can actually chart the future as opposed to react to day-to-day events.

Indeed, the future of the university looks bright, considering its greatly increased endowment and deficit reduction. But what is behind this financial turnaround? A look in Standard Nine of the self-study provides part of the answer.

According to the self-study report, students received less financial aid, by percentage, in 2005 than in 1995. In fact, the tuition discount rate (a measure of the schools generosity in financial aid) has dropped consistently in the last ten years.

Dont be mistaken;

this is not an accident. In the schools 1996 NEASC self-study, excessive financial aid was singled out as one of the most important financial issues facing the university. As a result, the amount of financial aid disbursed was reduced every successive year. The school defends these reductions in a 2001 five-year NEASC study, citing the increasing quality profile of applicants, which allowed a decrease in merit scholarships. However, calling financial aid, which helps countless students attend this and many other universities nationwide, merely a financial issue, stripping it of its human value, is worrying. More worrying still, the school also cited a restructuring in its need-based financial aid in that 2001 study.

Surely the drop in financial aid was a calculated move, made in an effort to increase the financial stability. But given the many other reasons cited in the current self-study for improved fiscal performance, including a generally robust economy and a focused administration, as well as the much-touted success of the universitys fundraising efforts, was the drop in university financial aid an essential component to Brandeis economic betterment?

In a time when tuition rates nationwide are increasing at double the rate of inflation, and middle class families are finding it more and more difficult to afford the incredible financial burden of higher education, it is startling to see that our university, which prides itself in social justice and equality, has put a ballooning endowment ahead of its students. Add to this the fact that Brandeis is receiving a record amount of money from donors and trustees, and that professors are still paid below average salaries, and the drop in financial aid becomes even more unacceptable.

Helping each and every student afford their education should be one of this institutions highest priorities.