The president and senior administrators met with students last week to discuss next year’s tuition increase.
Nearly 20 department heads and directors met in the Faculty Lounge on March 9 to answer students’ questions about how Mills plans to help cash-strapped students meet next year’s undergraduate tuition bill of $27,750.
But student turnout was low, with only a dozen students present during the hour and a half discussion. Many students said they either weren’t aware, or didn’t have time to attend during midterms.
The increase, $2,500 above of this year’s bill of $25,250, is similar to the increases of recent years, averaging around 10 percent for each of the last four years. The increase is expected to bring an additional $2 million in revenue next year.
Holmgren said part of the reason for the increase is to remain comparable with similar schools, so that, “Mills appears as it is — a top-notch and competitive institution.”
“Does that mean we’re interested in becoming Scripps, Pomona, or Occidental? Absolutely not,” Holmgren said. “We aspire to be a better Mills.”
Assuring students that Mills remains committed to “principles of great diversity,” Holmgren said efforts are being made to provide financial aid to qualified students who want to attend, but can’t afford it.
MCenter Director David Gin said students should file financial aid applications as soon as possible, if they have not already done so. The deadline for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, was March 2, but students can still file after the deadline.
After last year’s increase, Mills hoped to cover, on average, 60-65 percent of the increase; in actuality, Gin said an average of 65-70 percent was covered. While financial aid is always specific to the individual, he said filing paperwork by the deadlines, including FAFSA applications and tax returns, should be the biggest priority.
When a student asked how Mills plans on increasing diversity along with increases in tuition, Holmgren said there will continue to be “special enhancements for students of color”, referring to certain merit scholarships specifically for students of color. She also said that the College continues to look at “ways to enhance diversity in terms of experience as well.” One possibility mentioned was admissions materials in languages other than English.
Director of Institutional Research and Planning Terra Schehr said diversity has been increasing, along with tuition, in past years. The current student body makeup is 35 percent students of color, with 14 percent of students identifying as bi- or multiracial.
“We are committed to retaining our students,” said Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, senior advisor to the president and acting vice president for student affairs.
“Twenty percent of our tenure-track faculty are people of color, but that’s not good enough,” Holmgren said, emphasizing that there is no goal or limit that the school is seeking.
Additionally, three new tenure-track professors have been hired to start next fall, all of whom are people of color.
But, “diversity isn’t just about racial diversity,” said junior Gloria Espinosa, co-president of the ASMC.
This year’s letter from the president to students and families stated the that the college is now receiving approximately 56 percent of its operating budget from tuition and student fees including housing, a six percent increase from last year’s stated 50 percent.
For the 2003-2004 school year, the total operating budget was nearly $49 million. The majority of operating expenses, 57 percent, were salaries and benefits for faculty and staff.
Of the $130 million Sesquicentennial Campaign funds raised, Ramon Torrecilha, executive vice president of Institutional Advancement, said the largest portion allocated, $35-40 million, is endowment for student scholarships.
Few students at Mills actually pay full tuition. “It can be really confusing in higher education to look at the sticker price,” said Vice President of Admissions Julie Richardson. This school year, 97 percent of undergraduates and 84 percent of graduate students received some type of financial aid.
Richardson also said students shouldn’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help with their education, and suggested asking for things like book money instead of gifts.
This year, Mills undergraduates received $15 million in loans, grants and scholarships, and graduates received $7 million, according to Mills 2004-2005 Facts & Trends.
Richardson said on average, nearly one quarter of students don’t qualify for need-based aid, but may still receive scholarships and grants. 2004 Mills graduates averaged a little over $19,000 in debt at graduation, according to Richardson, with 76 percent of graduates having received some type of loan. The national average debt for graduates of 4-year private institutions was $21,200 in 2002, according to the 2002 National Student Loan Survey.
Gin said the Career Center can also help students find other scholarships and grants they’re eligible for. Students should go for individual financial aid counseling if they have concerns, or any significant changes in income.
Sophomore Britt Card said, “It was great having people available from every department.”
Junior class president Lynne Sloan said she was “glad it wasn’t a bitch session” and felt the meeting was productive, despite the poor student turnout.
“We don’t always have forums like this, and it behooves us as students to take advantage of it,” she said.
Espinosa said it was a great idea, “but I don’t think there was enough publicity for it.”
As to the tuition increase, Espinosa said, “We know it goes up every year, but now it seems like it’s for marketing reasons.”
Facts and figures of Mills’ budget and spending breakdowns are available to students through the office of Institutional Research, and the library’s Mills archives.
In an attempt to create a more transparent budget process, Holmgren said the Mills Budget Committee will also begin including student representation next fall.