Talking tuition with Chancellor Victor Boschini

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    Chancellor Victor Boschini is hosting a town hall meeting at noon Wednesday that’s open to all students and faculty. Last week, the Chancellor sat down with the TCU 360 editorial board for a free ranging discussion that covered everything from tuition and salaries to the Chancellor’s vision for the university. Here’s an edited version of the conversation:

    Q:  How important is student input to the Board of Trustees when it comes to voting on tuition?

    A: Absolutely, yes. It’s done in two ways; there’s a formal way this is done, via the Student Affairs committee, which is a group of students who meet with the Board two or three times a year. The other way it’s considered is several of the Board members have a student at TCU. They’re paying the same thing everybody’s paying. They understand exactly what goes into it. Nobody ever wants to increase tuition but what I always say when people ask, “Will tuition go up every year?”  Is yes, you have to assume that. It will stop going up when people want less, whatever people want less of. However, I’ve never had that happen since I’ve been here.

    Q:  Do you have any plans to increase the dollar amount of merit scholarships given out to students given the tuition raise?

    A:  No, I’m against that because if you need it, we will raise your financial aid amount. If you don’t need it, we won’t increase it. When we say your financial aid goes up every year, it means that if you’re a need-based student, we will meet that need. If tuition goes up five percent, [need-based financial aid] goes up five percent. If your parents are making $400,000 a year and you’re on a Dean’s scholarship, your financial aid won’t go up. The only merit-based scholarship that goes up every year is the Chancellor’s scholarship because the agreement is that it will pay for everything. If your FAFSA warrants it, we will meet your need every year. I’ve never met a parent who’s agreed with FAFSA, but I would say, “Vote for a new Congress” because I can barely control TCU, let alone the federal government. [FAFSA] is the form you have to go by for federal financial aid and we want to get federal financial because it gives us a lot of money for our students. However, I do want to say that in the 11 years I’ve been here, two or three times we’ve increased the merit-based scholarships. We don’t do that every year and we never promise that we’ll do it every year and the reason we do that is because in my opinion we need to help the neediest students first and the smartest students second. The merit-based scholarships are based off of academic talent.

    Q: What does tuition pay for?

    A: Tuition pays for everything around you. The biggest thing tuition pays for is salary and wages and benefits. Like I said before [tuition won’t be raised] when everybody wants less. It’s when employees don’t want healthcare anymore, that’s never going to happen. It’s when they don’t want vacation, when students don’t want a counseling center. So, 42 percent of the budget goes to pay salary, wages and benefits. The other 60 percent is spent of the Physical Plant, financial aid, which is actually the second biggest chunk at $107 million and office supplies like ink and paper.

    Q:  How much does the “sticker price” of TCU, currently $36,000, cover a student’s education here?

    A: I’d say [tuition] covers about two-thirds of what it really costs to go to TCU. The rest is made up by donors. We’re very fortunate that TCU has a small base of very big donors who are very generous to us.

    Q: According to the most recent 990 form, the university employs over 250 people who make over $100,000 year. Is TCU going to continue increasing employee pay?

    A: We do a market survey every year and our goal is to have every employee’s salary comparable to the market. If you’re the director of the counseling center, we want that salary to  commensurate with the director of counseling centers in the market of DFW. If you’re a professor of communication, then that market is a national one. You would move here to become the head of the Schieffer School, but you probably would not move here to become the head of the counseling center. We try to do it based on market. We don’t raise people’s pay for the sake of raising their pay, but we look at the salaries and the market. We also consider our benefits, and we have better benefits than most companies.

    Q: Who does the university compete against in terms of other colleges?

    A: Our biggest competitors are Vanderbilt, Tulane, Baylor and SMU. I look at what those schools are doing before I give anybody a raise. I also look at what schools in the Big 12 are doing and we used to look at the schools in the Mountain West. We look at both those groups because if we’re going to lose a key administrator, a lot of the times it will be to one of those schools. I first look at the private schools as opposed to the Big 12 because the only school in the Big 12 like us is Baylor. Oklahoma has a budget of $6 billion while ours is $500 million so you can’t compare us to them.

    Q: Has TCU ever thought of freezing tuition, where incoming students get locked into the same tuition for all four years?

    A: We’ve absolutely thought of doing that. We’ve thought of doing several different things: one, freezing your tuition when you come in and two, giving you a stated tuition for each year. Both of them, the board has voted not to do for what I feel are good reasons. The thing I don’t like about guaranteed tuition is that the people under you end up paying for what you’re using as a senior. I’ve worked at schools that do it that way and we hear complaints from freshmen about it. I think there’s some legitimacy to that. As for the stated tuition for all four years, I don’t think that’s good either because you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen with the market.

    Q: Do you think that’s fair to students? In 2009, tuition was $28,000 and now it is $36,000.

    A: I wouldn’t say the word “fair” because it’s not a “fair-not-fair” issue. I would say that we’re real honest that when anybody ever asks me we say that they should expect tuition to rise. Of all [the private schools mentioned before], who has the lowest tuition? TCU. Who has never had a raise in tuition? None of them. Now, I’m not proud of having the lowest tuition, but I don’t want the highest tuition either. I want the tuition that merits the services you get. I think the question every student should be asking is, “Am I getting what I paid for?” What I say is that people will vote with their feet and we have a 91 percent retention rate while the national average is 72 percent. I think people are saying that they are getting what they paid for.

    Q:  What is your vision for TCU?

    A:  I always want us to be the best we can be with one caveat: that we never forget we’re here for students. I’ve worked for schools that have forgotten that and TCU hasn’t lost that yet and I don’t think we ever will. I want TCU to be 8, 500 undergrads and 1,500 graduate students forever. We have some people say to me, “Go to 15,000 students. You can do it with these applications.” Yes, we could, but I wouldn’t know the three of you anymore and we couldn’t sit down and do this. I’ve been the president of a school of 30,000. It’s totally different. My vision is that we’ll be a national university giving the highest quality education possible, but be student-centered. I think that student-centered part is what makes us different from other schools that I’ve listed.

    Q: What do you think are the biggest needs here at TCU?

    A: Financial aid. As we get more expensive, which we’re going to, we need to shape our freshman class every year so that this doesn’t become a place for only people who can afford it. It’s not that now based on the fact that 72 percent of students get financial aid. That gets more and more expensive every year, which means we need to raise more money.

    Q: What do you have to say to students in general about the tuition raise?

    A: It never makes me, or the board, happy to raise tuition. We agonize over it every year, I promise you that. It’s never fun to do it. However, I feel that we have a duty to provide a certain standard of education and we can’t do that unless [we have] money. Again, you tell me if you don’t think you’re getting what you paid for. Students do this all the time, they email me, call me and I’ll try fix that every time I can. There are 10,000 of you, and one of me, so of course I want to make you happy. I know this isn’t one way to do it, by raising tuition, so I’ll try any other way I can as long as it’s legal, ethical and moral.