Message from President Upham

Thursday, June 30, 2011

President Upham's letter to campus community regarding recent U.S. Department of Education report.

Dear Colleagues

College costs are a matter of concern for nearly every family with a college-bound student. This week, U.S. Department of Education released a report on freshman tuition and fee increases; the report names TU among the nation’s top 5% of private institutions with the largest percentage increases in tuition and fees over the past three years. I am writing to put this finding in context and explain what this means for the university.

The report found that tuition and fees for incoming TU freshmen increased 22.7% in the academic years between 2007-08 and 2009-10. That number, however, only tells a portion of the story and fails to take into account financial aid. I believe a more meaningful measure is TU’s average net price – tuition minus the average scholarship aid, government aid and institutional grants awarded. TU’s average net price – the amount students actually pay – increased at a more modest rate of 6.8% during the three-year period examined by the Department of Education.

Alongside its tuition and fees list, the Department of Education also published a list of the top 5% of schools with the highest increases in net price increases. TU did not appear on this list. (These institutions, incidentally, had base tuition increases ranging from 35% to 571% during the survey period.)

But even if we disregard financial aid and look only at costs, TU’s tuition and fees still remain $5,000 to $12,000 lower than the average tuition costs of schools that we consider our peers and direct competitors for the nation’s brightest students.

For students and their families, the bottom line is that TU’s aggressive approach in securing all available federal and institutional aid has helped offset necessary tuition increases. Last year, more than 84% of all TU students received some form of financial aid.

The three-year cycle covered in the Department of Education report also coincides with the greatest period of transformation in the university’s history. Over the past 15 years, TU has built more than 1.3 million square feet of facilities, emerging as a highly competitive national university with a vibrant residential campus housing nearly 80 percent of undergraduates. The expansion has included on-campus apartment communities, student life facilities, academic buildings, and other improvements necessary to compete with the nation’s top universities.

As TU has enhanced its residential campus, we also have seen a substantial rise in the day-to-day costs of doing business in areas such as health care, energy, food, and other business operations. The two biggest areas of increased expenses have been operational costs and faculty/staff salaries with related insurance and health care benefits. University officials do all that we can to squeeze efficiencies from our daily operations, and we continually explore methods that would improve in this regard. As for salaries, the university is committed to providing competitive salaries and benefits to enable TU to attract and retain top talent to teach our students and operate our enterprise.

I think it is important to note that tuition alone accounts for only about a third of the university’s operating costs, with the balance coming from external sources, endowments and ancillary activities. We have been incredibly fortunate to have alumni and friends who have invested more than $600 million in TU during our Embrace the Future fundraising campaign (ending June 30), which has used donor dollars to construct facilities, establish maintenance endowments, increase student scholarships, support faculty salaries, and much more.

The University of Tulsa has been recognized in recent years both for the quality of its academic programs and for the exceptional value we provide to our students. Recent numbers show that 88% of our students are employed or in graduate school shortly after graduation, and our graduates continue to distinguish themselves in their chosen fields. I thank each of you for your efforts in making TU one of the nation’s top universities.

All best,

David Hamby