This article was updated on March 10, 2017 to reflect more accurate information.
As the cost of living in Seattle keeps rising, so does the cost of attendance at Seattle Pacific University.
In an email last Friday afternoon, President Dan Martin announced that tuition for the 2017-2018 academic year has risen to $40,464. After mandatory fees and an estimate of room and board costs, it totals $52,125 for the year.
With a total cost increase of 4.7 percent, SPU’s tuition is steadily rising.
Martin noted that among other decisions, the Board of Trustees approves the university’s budget for the following year in their winter meeting, which happened the week before the announcement. Also in the email, Martin assured students that “we are always mindful of the financial pressures you and your families face.”
Even though the numbers were ultimately approved by the Board, Martin explained that they came out of meetings with students, staff and faculty, saying, “Our goal is always to make the price you pay as reasonable and competitive as possible for the high-quality education you receive at SPU.”
When sophomore intended nursing major Ali Beliveau first saw these numbers, she was upset.
“I just kind of shook my head and thought, ‘here we go again’ since we get that email every year,” she said. “Then the more I thought about it and talked about it with people, the more I realized how ridiculous I found it. From my haphazard calculations, the cost of attendance has gone up nine percent since I was admitted into SPU. I just find it lame that the answer to whatever the Board of Trustees, or whoever makes these decisions, is to raise the price of attending.”
While few students pay the sticker price of tuition, Vice President of Business and Finance Craig Kispert understands the worry and encourages students to consider the net cost, in other words, the difference between the sticker price and financial aid.
According to Kispert, each year’s budget planning process is one of give and take.
“Our goal is to always have a balanced budget, so to have zero when we add up all our revenues and all our expenses, so that’s kind of what I shepherd the process toward,” Kispert said. “My primary role as the facilitator of all these conversations is to try to aggregate all the inputs, all the pieces of the information.”
Since tuition is the university’s primary source of revenue, Kispert mentioned that those involved in budget decisions consider what’s appropriate given enrollment numbers, and relative to community standards.
“We want to maintain existing quality and existing programs while also looking at … what new programs are out there and what new students are interested in,” Kispert said.
According to Kispert, in total, over the last two years, the minimum wage increase has added about a million dollars to the university’s expenses with student compensation responsible for almost all of it.
While Kispert mentioned that funding the new Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion did factor into the budget for next year, he made it clear that the new Student Union Building is a completely separate project, still in the planning phase and intended to be paid for with donations and grants.
If those sources are not entirely successful and repayment of the project does come into the university budget, Kispert stressed that administration would not put all the debt against tuition in one given year, but rather spread it out over time as they do with other projects.
While budget conversations happen all year round, Kispert noted that the initial budget planning for next year’s budget starts in the first part of December with he and a few other staff members preparing a budget model based on the information from the current year.
Then, once everyone returns to campus in January after winter break, Kispert said that’s when the committee processes begin. He meets with the Student Budget Committee, the Faculty Budget Committee, the Senior Leadership Team, the Dean’s Cabinet and a variety of other people on campus to begin identifying budgetary needs.
“We review what it is we might be facing next year with everything from enrollment to cost increases to what the competition is doing, and just review all of that,” Kispert said. “It’s really a matter of accessing what is reasonable and acceptable.”
From the various reports compiled across campus, Kispert created a roughly 70-page report to present to the Board at their meeting during the week of Feb. 27.
One such report that Kispert reviewed was that of the Student Budget Committee.
Two members of the committee, juniors Lola Sosanya and Nathan Bennett, said they focused on accessibility, international student support and expansion of faculty diversity in their discussions.
For ASSP President Lola Sosanya, one challenge was choosing the language to explain their desires.
“How to explain that we wanted to see the expansion of faculty who come from diverse backgrounds, that’s difficult to quantify into money or how to change that in the budget,” Sosanya said. “Hopefully we did that in a proper manner.”
While both Bennett and Sosanya see value in vocalizing the changes they want to see, they recognize that the rate of change in higher education is slow.
As Kispert said, “There’s a lot of our budget that’s fixed, so it’s hard to make a change in one year, but if you go back and you look over the course of four or five years, you always see changes.”
Even with an understanding of the larger picture, when it comes to seeing a large price tag for the experience of higher education at SPU, Bennett wouldn’t try to ease any concern, but rather encourage students to express it.
“If you are concerned about the increase, the good thing is that our university is small enough that administration is more accessible, so I would say push in and press on,” Bennett said.
“Get more information,” Sosanya added. “There’s some degree of openness and that is unique for our university, and so I would echo what [Bennett] said and also say, here’s our reality, we live in Seattle, everything is rising in expense, including our tuition. Keep asking questions and keep pushing us; that’s why we sit here.”
For students who feel the pressure of the tuition increase, Assistant VP for Enrollment Operations and Student Financial Services Jordan Grant encourages them to meet with their financial counselor.
“We want to make sure students are prepared to withstand and participate in the rigor that is SPU so we try to provide as much as we can for the students who demonstrate financial need … as much as the resources allow,” Grant said.
As Student Financial Services evaluates students on a need continuum incorporating academic preparedness, self-help, student employment and gift aid, Grant says there is a lot of thought that goes into the financial aid process.
“If things should change or it’s just becoming a significant struggle, there’s a number of things we can look into to make sure we have the most accurate financial picture of a student and apply whatever we need to support them,” Grant said. “We meet with students often, and we understand the investment students are making. We know they are working more than one job, some parents are borrowing loans and about 70 percent of our students borrow … So hopefully we are responding graciously when students come with challenges.”