Educational Mission Dictates College's Cost

 

By William D. Adams, President
 

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Illustration by Leo Pando
Every spring Colby families get a letter from me announcing the comprehensive fee for the next academic year. I've come to understand that this isn't the most welcome news a family can receive. In letters and e-mails, and when I meet with parents and alumni/ae at Colby events, I often am asked why Colby costs as much as it does. The answer is complex, but the bottom line is not: Colby costs what it does because we are committed to offering the best residential liberal arts education available anywhere in the world. We also operate in an intensely competitive marketplace where the expectation is that we will provide outstanding facilities and services.

Start with the faculty, the heart of the College. Colby's budget for 2006-07 includes $15.7 million for faculty salaries, not including benefits. This represents an increase of about 4 percent over 2005-06. Benefits costs (health insurance, retirement plans, tuition assistance, etc.) rise 7.8 percent in next year's budget, to $13.2 million. Maine is a highly challenging place in which to provide health benefits to employees, and this figure includes health insurance increases of 12 percent for current employees and 19 percent for retirees.

Colby's faculty salaries rank about in the middle of the New England Small College Athletic Association (NESCAC) and among peer schools in other parts of the country, and it is vital that we pay close attention to this area. Colby students expect to study and conduct research with outstanding scholars, and scholars of the caliber found at Colby are always in demand. The College's location sometimes makes recruitment of faculty challenging--although Maine and Waterville are marvelous places in which to live and work, faculty face challenges that aren't as prevalent in urban or suburban locations. Many discover, for example, that spouses and partners, often highly accomplished in their own fields, cannot find meaningful employment nearby. But beyond these kinds of details, we are mindful of the need to compensate our talented faculty appropriately in this competitive marketplace, which consists of peer liberal arts colleges as well as major research universities. This, we believe, is of primary import for our students.

If the faculty is the heart of the College, students are surely its lifeblood. And just as we want to attract and retain the best faculty, so do we want the best students, on several measures. Many of the students who enhance our community deeply could not attend Colby without financial aid. Next year's aid budget is $20.54 million, an increase of $2.4 million over this year. As I said in my essay for the 2004-2005 Annual Report of the President, it matters that low-income students have access to higher education. In my experience as a college and university faculty member and administrator and through the work I do with higher education associations, I have seen the continuing force of higher education as a vehicle for advancement in our nation. Investing as we do in opportunity and aspiring to offer need-blind admission, Colby plays a critical role in this national movement.

We've budgeted $21.5 million for non-faculty salaries next year, for a workforce of about 500. It is a large number, but Colby's administrative and support staffs are among the very leanest in NESCAC, and we hope that those who support our work with their comprehensive fee payments understand that we use those funds wisely and put the needs of our students and faculty first. While Colby's non-teaching staff has grown significantly in the past decades, so has its mission expanded, as have the expectations of students and their families.

To provide the education we do, Colby must offer a huge array of services, some of which barely existed at other times in our history. In essence, we are running a small town here on Mayflower Hill, with full-service restaurants, a police force, a medical center including mental health and physical therapy offerings, health and recreation facilities that cater to the needs of varsity athletes and more casual participants, three libraries, media outlets, housing facilities, on-call availability of professionals in the building and other trades--all to support our educational mission.

These services are labor-intensive but essential. For example, we not only provide the facilities that students and faculty need in order to take advantage of modern information technology, we also employ people to support those facilities and to provide training in their use. As we add faculty members and enhance academic programs, new space requirements and the need for a variety of teaching environments call for projects such as the Diamond Building. Although the bulk of that project and many other capital projects are covered through fund raising, now ongoing in the Reaching the World campaign, additional staff to clean and maintain the buildings is accounted for in the operational budget. And as students help us understand their needs in a residential environment, we devote considerable funds to support co-curricular and extracurricular initiatives in athletics, residence and dining halls, and other areas of student life.

As I sat down to write my comprehensive-fee letter this year, I thought about salaries and health benefits, energy prices (we're figuring on a 66.2-percent increase in the cost of oil and a 46-percent increase in the cost of electricity, for a total of $3.8 million), food ($2 million), office materials ($360,000), computers ($1 million), and library acquisitions ($1.8 million). Mostly, though, I thought about the investment all of us--alumni/ae donors, families, faculty, staff, and friends--are making in the future of our College and of its students. It seems to me among the wisest that could ever be made.
 
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