The cost of attending Lawrence for the 2015-16 school year is going to be $52,950—2.89% more than last year’s $51,465. However, that 2.89% increase is the lowest increase in tuition and fees Lawrence has seen in 20 years. Lawrence is attempting to lower these yearly increases in cost while raising the $75 million necessary to meet the full financial need of its students.
“Over the last year we have been looking at a number of initiatives that have been helping us trim costs out of our budget, without affecting the student experience” said Chris Lee, Vice President of Finance at Lawrence. “Over about a three year period, we’re hoping to reduce our operating expenses by about seven percent, which is 2.8 million dollars.”
Lee explained that the income Lawrence receives from students primarily goes to faculty and staff salaries and benefits—about 65% of what any Lawrence student pays to attend. As the cost of living in the United States increases, said Lee, “you have an almost constant need for salaries to go up. They go up at a very, very modest level here, but they do still go up over time, and if the 65% of your expense base must be going up over time, you’ve got to have something coming in that goes up over time as well.”
The majority of the rest of income from students goes to the cost of a room—$4,410 for a double room during the 2015-16 school year—and for food, amounting to $4,800. A $285 activity fee, which the Lawrence University Community Council collects to finance student organizations, and a $15 environmental sustainability fee comprise the other $300 dollars a year.
In order to finance other, larger scale projects, such as the upcoming housing project in Colman Hall, Lawrence relies on either donations or borrowed money to be paid off using donation later on.
“[Lawrence] has about 35 million dollars in bond debt that’s outstanding … Last year we re-negotiated that debt, and lowered our cost of interest on it,” said Lee, explaining that the re-negotiated level of interest “will allow us to invest in new programming that we will be able to have on our campus, allow us to invest in the campus infrastructure, which is aging in some places, and most importantly to invest in our faculty and the people who work here, while being as reasonable and affordable as we can be.”
Some donations, known as “brick and mortar” donations, are specifically meant to be used on campus, for projects like the new Colman housing. However, “we’ve found … that the majority of the Lawrence community is really interested in trying to make Lawrence more affordable. The vast majority of our gifts are right now going to financial aid,” said President Mark Burstein.
Lee explained that, in order to become a full need institution, Lawrence is trying to increase its endowment, the pool of money that funds financial aid for students.
“Right now,” said Lee, “when we provide a financial aid package to many of our students, our financial aid package doesn’t meet their full need, and that concept is called a gap. Right now, we have more gap than we would like to have as an institution.We would like that gap to be zero.”
The $25 million gift that Lawrence received in the summer of 2014 is helping fund the effort to increase Lawrence’s endowment, the pool of money that funds student financial aid. According to president Burstein, Lawrence’s endowment is currently at around $265 million and Lawrence has been working to raise the $75 million necessary to become a full need institution.
“The stipulation of that [$25 million gift] is that we would match it, and we have raised close to $19 million now to match the $25 million. That means we’ve raised about $44 million.” He went on to explain that although this is encouraging, it will take some time before it benefits students directly.
“One of the challenges in this is that when I say ‘we raised,’ it means we have members of the Lawrence community who have pledged to give us that amount over a time period, so it will still take a bit of time before these resources will really support students and families on campus,” Burstein explained, adding “I’m hopeful that over the next three to five year period students and families will feel the support [from the endowment].”