As some schools freeze tuition, BW focuses on ‘value’

While other schools in the country have implemented tuition locks or freezes that promise students the same tuition for the duration of their four-year college career, Baldwin Wallace has opted out of this option.

A tuition lock refers to a program an institution offers that ensures that base tuition rates for undergraduate students remain the same for four continuous academic years. While this option appears to be glamorous, said Bill Reniff, vice president of finance and administration at Baldwin Wallace University, it has its faults.

“Typically, schools that do the freeze are schools that have a much more severe enrollment decline,” said Reniff. “They have a drastic decline in enrollment and they’re trying to do something to get a boost in enrollment. Typically, what they do is a big bump from one freshman class to the next and then they freeze it.”

Reniff said schools that have done it in the past quickly move away from this idea because it is a temporary fix for a larger scale issue. When the school that has the tuition lock struggles to increase enrollment, costs increases become more drastic for incoming students.

At BW, tuition has increased 2.9 percent from Fall 2018 to Fall 2019. Compared to another Ohio school that has a tuition lock, Baldwin Wallace’s annual increases overall have been less drastic since 2014, said Scott Schulz, vice president of enrollment engagement.

Most schools that do create the tuition lock find themselves in the same kind of structure as other institutions with nominal increases that are pertinent to meet budgetary needs. While BW has looked into the option of a tuition lock, Schulz said it would go against BW’s overall mission to create a strong student experience.

“If you were in a position where you were not able to generate resources, then the student experience is going to suffer,” Schulz said. “Whether that’s not having enough classes available, too many students in class, where then you aren’t getting that personal relationship [or] support that BW is known for. That’s going to impact the student experience in a tough way and that’s why BW has tried to instead spread out small tuition increases each year as opposed to bunches.”

In order to maintain enrollment numbers at BW, steps have been taken to ensure BW students understand the value of the education they are receiving, said Steve Stahl, Provost. When Stahl talks to prospective parents, he highlights how private institutions are a true return on investment.

“One of the things we try to do is talk about the value proposition,” Stahl said. “So yes, there’s a cost associated with it but there’s also benefits. The value you get for going to BW are: relatively small classes; personal interaction with faculty; [faculty] works you harder individually and as a result, students are almost twice as likely to graduate from BW as from as a state university.”

Stahl said Georgetown University recently conducted a study comparing the net return of a regional state school versus schools like BW. On average, the results showed that BW students receive a 6 percent higher long-term investment.

“You’re getting what you pay for,” Stahl said. “Basically, in the end, the out of pocket cost is equivalent to a mid-sized Chevy. You get to keep it for your life, and it pays back. It’s not like you’re going to sell as Chevy for a 6 percent increase 40 years later.”

One of the challenges to maintain enrollment numbers is the overall decrease in population of high school graduates in the Greater Cleveland area. With less prospective students in the area, BW has shifted some of its efforts to become less tuition heavy which may appeal to future students.

While tuition is important, he said BW does have other revenue generators, such as fundraising and a strong endowment. Also, to a lesser degree, BW receives revenue from contracts and grants that help support the bottom-line budget, he said.

“We can’t do business as usual considering how challenging of an environment we are facing right now, Schulz said. “[The new] Starbucks was a very strong entrepreneurial effort on BW’s part [to raise more money].”

Stahl said BW hopes that the new MACS building as well as updates on Front Street will increase enrollment, which would decrease the need to increase tuition.

In all, the tuition dollars cover somewhere between a half and two thirds of the total expenses of BW’s education. The decision to increase tuition comes from the 12-person chamber, which includes the COO, President Helmer, the Provost and other important decision makers. There, the members review the expenses need and deliver their findings to the Board of Trustees who make the final decision, Stahl said.

Compensation of full-time staff members takes up between 65 to 70 percent of tuition dollars, while the other 30 to 35 percent covers operating expenses, debt payments, maintenance, insurance and utilities, said Reniff.

“We’ve been fortunate that our tuition increases have been less than three percent and we try to keep them that way,” said Reniff. “It all is to provide for the students. You want to have the best faculty here, we want to maintain the best faculty, we want to give them the best facilities, the best technologies.”