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Making tuition dollars count

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Photo: Joey Gale

Every day, junior Quincy Brown wonders how he will pay tuition. He knows college is expensive. The cost of living is increasing, and most schools are raising prices as well, but Brown said he doesn’t see Drake’s costs supporting anything substantial.

“I don’t think school should cost this much,” he said. “It causes me not to focus on school. I think ‘Oh my God, if I fail this, I’ll have to pay $36,000 for another whole year.”

Brown worries about this because he saw his two best friends suffer through the same experience. All three came to Drake together as first-years, but now in his junior year, Brown is the only one left. The other two left the school after the combination of maintaining academic standards and affording rising costs became too challenging for them.

“My Drake experience has been focused on money,” Brown said. “I go through traumatic experiences thinking about tuition on a semester basis. It’s the worst feeling ever.”

Drake’s Board of Trustees recently announced that tuition costs would increase 4.1 percent for the 2012-2013 academic year. While the increase aims towards improving students’ overall educational experience, many are upset with the changes.

First-year public relations and management major Taylor Rookaird said that she doesn’t understand why room and board is increasing. She said the residence halls are of high quality, but if the costs are growing, students should be able to see some improvements. She added that the dining services could benefit from some additional funding.

“Our food is fine, but it’s boring and repetitive,” she said. “Hubbell dining hours are very limited, too, so you get stuck eating at the Quad Creek Café.”

Brown is a biochemistry-molecular biology and computer science major, and he said that he isn’t impressed with the classes he has taken in those fields. He said that many of his professors don’t seem to care about helping him succeed.

Sophomore pre-pharmacy major Jared Netley said the tuition increase for second-year pharmacy students frustrates him most. Pharmacy students pay higher tuition to begin with, but tuition for the first three years of pharmacy school will increase by 4.1 percent, and in the fourth year the tuition increases by 4.4 percent for the 2012-2013 academic year.

“(Fourth-year pharmacy students) don’t even go to school here,” he said. “We pay $37,000 a year, and we’re just off doing rotations.”

While students may not support the allocation of funds, President David Maxwell and Vice President of Business and Finance Victoria Payseur stand by the Board of Trustees’ decision that the changes are in the school’s best interests.

“We try to strike a reasonable balance between keeping the cost to students as low as possible versus what additional funding is needed to provide a high quality education,” Payseur said.

The tuition increase for the upcoming year is actually less than it was the past two years, which was 5 percent. She said that including a J-term added 1 percent more to the price increase, which was only 3 percent on its own.

“The administration and the Board of Trustees certainly understand that paying for a college education represents a significant financial commitment and investment on the part of students and their families,” Payseur said.

She said that $50 million of Drake’s budget already goes towards student financial aid and makes up 37 percent of the total tuition and fees.  Payseur also noted that faculty and staff compensation and financial aid would be the primary applications of the additional funding.

Many students feel that increasing tuition prices should correlate with increased scholarships as well. Brown said that he thinks he should be able to apply for more aid, whether it is merit- or need-based, throughout his years at Drake.

“If we increased financial aid every year with our tuition increases, we would never have any additional net revenue,” said Susan Ladd, director of financial aid. “Those merit-aid costs are very important costs of the budget to remain fixed. Then we know how much we’re going to spend for those pieces.”

Not all students are upset by the changes, however. Sophomore law, politics and society and rhetoric major Lara Henderson said that she understands why tuition increases, and if it can enhance her education, it is definitely worth the additional costs.

“I think people freak out because they don’t put things into perspective,” she said. “They don’t compare our costs to other schools.”

Henderson transferred before the second semester of her first year from the University of St. Thomas, a private university in St. Paul, Minn. Henderson said that she was more accepting of Drake’s costs because St. Thomas was more expensive.

“I had an experience where tuition was significantly higher,” she said. “It cost $42,000 my freshman year.”

Compared to several other private colleges and universities in the Midwest, Drake is reasonably priced.

Maxwell said in an email to students that Drake ranked high in academic quality by U.S. News and World Report and Kiplinger’s while only ranking 12th in cost. Rival schools like Creighton and Butler charge students over $30,000 a year for tuition, a price tag Drake has managed to avoid.

“I wouldn’t expect students and their parents to be pleased by tuition increases, of course,” Maxwell said, “but we go to great lengths to keep the increases at a minimum, and we communicate very clearly why the increase is necessary and what the increased revenue will be used for. We hope that students and their parents do at least understand its importance in continuing to provide an exceptional learning environment.”

Though some of the financial burden will fall on students’ shoulders, Ladd said that giving up isn’t their only option.

“They need to call us,” she said. “We want to retain students. We understand that not only has the student made an investment in us, but we’ve made an investment in them as well. So we want to find a solution. That’s not to say there is a solution for every person. Sometimes the amount that needs to be covered just is not available.”

Students seeking financial help can contact Drake’s Office of Student Financial Planning at 515-271-2905 or stop by Carnegie Hall. The office is open on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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