March 23, 2016
Dear students, families, and members of the DU faculty and staff,
Earlier this month, as we do each year at this time, we shared the University’s 2016–2017 tuition rates with students and families. Many students and families have expressed concern about DU’s 4.9 percent increase in tuition, as well as the increase of $540 in room-and-board charges. We write to provide more transparency into why we had to increase the tuition and charges for 2016-2017.
College affordability may be the single greatest challenge facing higher education today. Both of us were first-generation college students who had to pay for college without help from our families. We see the issues of accessibility and affordability for DU students of utmost importance, and they are important to the University. We know that any increase causes anxiety and, in some circumstances, hardships for students and their families, and we take these matters very seriously.
A DU education, though high in value and impact, is expensive to provide
The University’s largest expenditures are salaries and benefits for faculty and staff, comprising 62 percent of the budget. We invest in hiring and retaining exceptional faculty and staff members who provide a transformative educational experience for our students.
We know that the most important resource for a student experience is the quality of faculty and staff. We maintain a 11:1 ratio of students to faculty members and, since the 2008 recession, we have improved that ratio by adding 17 percent more appointed faculty members (110), in our traditional programs. This is significant because many other institutions did quite the opposite, increasing class size and undercutting academic excellence. Our emphasis on our academic quality distinguishes DU and benefits our students.
In terms of adding staff, we have responded to the needs of our community to increase staffing and resources in critical areas on campus, such as the Health and Counseling Center, advising, residential education and leadership development. We are providing increased support to our Title IX office for education programs, investigators and training, all aimed to make our environment safer and free from sexual assault, gender bias and relationship violence. All these additions were made in response to direct requests of students and their families.
Our commitment to financial aid is costly but critical
Eighty-one percent of our students receive financial aid. Financial aid for undergraduate, graduate and professional students is the top priority of DU IMPACT 2025, our recently approved strategic plan, and we are currently engaged in the Momentum Scholarship Challenge to expand scholarship funding. Our next campaign will set even higher aims for financial aid. Presently, we spend $165 million dollars per year in aid. Only 9.3 percent of this amount comes from endowed funds, with the remainder coming directly from the operational budget. Therefore, our aspiration to increase student aid puts tremendous pressure on other areas and challenges us to be fiscally responsible.
We are working hard to expand our endowment which, at $620 million, is significantly smaller than that of our peer schools. Because endowment money is meant to exist in perpetuity, only a portion (generally 4-5 percent) is used each year, with the principal left intact. Last year, we began accelerating and further professionalizing our University’s fundraising efforts.
Our operating budget and endowment help us retain outstanding professors and support their teaching and research. For years, we have known that our faculty salaries are lower than the salaries of faculty members at peer institutions, making it difficult for us to retain these exceptional scholars. Because of that, we are in the midst of a multi-year process to increase faculty salaries. And we are embarking on a similar process to ensure that staff salaries remain competitive so that we retain dedicated and exceptional staff members.
Infrastructure is also expensive and necessary for DU’s leadership
When weighed against financial aid and access, new buildings may seem extravagant, so we are grateful to have generous supporters backing such projects. The Anna & John J. Sie International Relations Complex and the new Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science buildings are made possible due to the generosity and vision of donors. DU has consistently relied upon philanthropic support rather than tuition dollars to fund its building projects.
Now, with our campus in excellent shape, DU IMPACT 2025 calls for only minimal new investment in the physical plant, including a reimagined student center. This means that most fundraising in the years to come will be focused on endowing financial aid.
Commitment to controlling costs
The University has created a division called Shared Services to generate greater efficiencies across academic and administrative units. By pooling resources, we can eliminate redundancies across the University and use our employees more effectively. We continue to evaluate our use of resources across units to ensure efficiency and make certain that we are using your tuition dollars wisely.
Comparison to peers
Colleges and universities use “peer groups,” looking at similarities in mission, size and research activity, among other factors. Our peer group is available online. Our tuition is lower than the median tuition of the institutions in our peer group, and that has been the case for many years. Unfortunately for our entire community, the reality is that higher education costs are increasing nationally. In this challenging time, we assure you we are doing our best to find the balance of making DU accessible to all of our excellent students, while also providing a valuable education and experience that exceeds the tuition costs.
Commitment to greater transparency
Every day, we weigh our rising costs against our commitment to academic excellence. We understand the difficulties families face as they invest in higher education, and we are committed to stewarding the University’s resources responsibly for students of today and the future. Still, we recognize tuition is expensive, and our ability to fund financial aid does not meet the full needs of our families. Next year, in an attempt to reduce the financial burden on our families, we are committing an additional $13.3 million in financial aid, which is 63 percent of the $21.2 million in new revenue from tuition rates. This is a 4.9 percent increase in tuition and a 9.1 percent increase in aid.
We appreciate your support and your hard work. We are committed to maintaining the quality of a DU education and to working harder to ensure that education is more accessible.
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor