It’s no secret that school is expensive. Especially at Albion College, where the official cost of enrollment for the 2013-14 school year topped $45,000.
The mystery is figuring out the true cost for students, and how that money is being spent. It’s also important to place Albion in the context of other schools to see how we measure up.
The National Center for Education Statistics collects data and compiles reports related to costs and spending by colleges and universities across the nation. It most recently published information from the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. I used this resource to compare Albion College (1,382 students) with a group of liberal arts colleges in Michigan that have similar sized enrollments. Those schools are Adrian College (1,650), Alma College (1,419), Kalamazoo College (1,450) and Olivet College (1,136).
When accounting for financial aid, the average net price of attendance for students at Albion College in 2011-12 was $22,275. That’s $2,793 more than the comparison group, which averaged $19,482.
Tuition and fees are just one way that schools generate revenue. They also rely on private grants and contributions, investment returns from endowments and other sources. The distribution of revenue among these sources varies by school.
During the 2012 fiscal year, tuition and fees accounted for 81 percent of Albion’s total revenue. Another 22 percent came from private sources. Albion actually lost money on its investments, to the tune of $1.5 million dollars.
Among the comparison group, tuition and fees accounted for only 72 percent of revenues on average. However, those schools were less adept at securing contributions from private sources, which accounted for just 17 percent of revenue on average. All except Adrian College lost money on their investments.
This means that Albion relies on its students more so than the other schools to generate revenue. So if we are paying more, the next question to answer is how that money is being spent.
Student instruction is the primary function of any educational institution. Albion directs slightly more funds to student instruction than most schools in the comparison group. In 2012, instruction accounted for 44 percent of Albion’s expenses, compared to an average of 40 percent among the others.
Yet if you examine how that money is allocated, some disturbing trends emerge. The salaries of academic faculty at Albion are far less than those at other schools. Professors at Albion make an average of $54,837 per year, while their peers earn $65,390.
Furthermore, Albion has been adding part-time faculty at an extraordinary rate. In February the Detroit Free Press published a database that allows readers to compare staffing levels at different schools. It groups employees into five separate categories, and for each one it measures the percent change in employees per 1,000 students.
From 2004 to 2012 employment of part-time faculty at Albion increased by 141 percent, while full-time faculty held steady at 1.73 percent. This trend reveals how Albion has spent so much on student instruction despite such poor salaries for its professors: By hiring part-time faculty that work at a lower pay-grade.
If these findings don’t worry you, they should.
Low salary levels inhibit Albion’s ability to attract and retain quality professors. You know something is wrong when a high profile faculty member leaves Albion after seven years to go to a community college. Why work here when you can earn more money elsewhere?
The influx of part-time faculty is almost as problematic. These professors are frequently less experienced than other faculty. Many are also seeking full-time employment, and only stay at Albion until a better opportunity comes along. As quickly as they become immersed in Albion’s community, or develop relationships with students, they are gone.
Meanwhile, Albion spends more on its administration than the other schools. Institutional support made up 22 percent of Albion’s expenses in 2012, while the comparison group averaged just 17 percent.
Administrative staff is responsible for the business operations at our school. Employees in this group range from well-known individuals like Albion College Interim President Mike Frandsen, to anonymous recruiters in the admissions department. Although the contributions of this group are important, they are not directly related to the main objective of our institution, which is to educate students.
The academic community at Albion is getting the short end of the stick. Students are paying more, while the faculty earn less. The administrators who determine our school’s budget sacrifice educational investment, while providing high levels of support for their own department. It’s not fair.
Students here work hard to achieve academic success, and our professors dedicate themselves to providing us with a world-class education. We are the heart and soul of Albion College. We deserve more.
Photo via IPEDS
This piece, as originally posted April 16, stated that one of our professors left to teach at a community college. It was updated April 20 to reflect that he left to be a part of its administration.