|Catholic Colleges & Universities|
Issue Date: November 2, 2007
By EILEEN MARKEY
As Catholic higher education in the United States enters its third century, colleges and universities are striving to maintain their uniquely Catholic identity and mission in the face of mounting financial pressures. The 221 American Catholic colleges and universities educate 720,000 students each year, from elite universities that rival the top secular institutions, to tiny colleges that serve working adults and academically struggling students, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. All of them are engaged in nearly constant dialogues over what it means to be a Catholic institution.
How does a university remain faithful to its Catholic mission -- including support for the preferential option for the poor -- when the average annual price at a private four-year college is $32,000? That figure from Trends in College Pricing 2007, a survey by the College Board that combines tuition, room, board and all college fees, is nearly 66 percent of the median household income in the United States, which the U.S. Census Bureau calculates was $48,201 in 2006.
Its going to be a real challenge in the future. Were not going to be able to keep raising the tuitions. Its going to be a real fundraising challenge, said Jesuit Fr. Charles Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, which represents 28 institutions. More and more if we add something, were going to have to look for something to subtract, he said.
At the most selective schools, tuition plus room, board and other fees add up to close to $50,000 a year. Not surprisingly, the most selective Catholic universities, such as Georgetown, Notre Dame and Fordham, have the highest percentage of students from families with annual incomes greater than $100,000, according to 2006 data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. At smaller and less selective Catholic colleges, only 22 percent of students come from families earning more than $100,000.
You almost have two different worlds here, said Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. There are the institutions that are serving the academically accomplished and the more affluent on one hand. On the other hand you have those that are serving the students of moderate academic accomplishment and considerable financial needs. I always say the strength of Catholic higher education is its internal diversity.
Some institutions are flourishing, enjoying record numbers of applicants and watching their endowments grow. But most Catholic colleges are not Notre Dame, Boston College or Georgetown. Most are small schools educating less affluent students and those with less than stellar academic records, most of whom must work to support themselves throughout their educational career. That financial strain has real effects on students education, said Jesuit Fr. Raymond Schroth, editor of Conversations, a magazine of Jesuit higher education and the professor of humanities at St. Peters College in Jersey City, N.J., where many students carry full-time jobs and classes. If I had millions of bucks, if I were a philanthropist, I would use that money to make college more affordable to the point where students would not have to have outside work, because you are not getting a college education when you do that.
The smaller and less selective schools have carved out a role serving students who encounter barriers to higher education, Yanikoski said. Immigrants, single parents, adult women, women from financially shaky backgrounds, these colleges have distinguished themselves by reaching out to those who have not had the opportunities, he said.
There are many that are struggling to survive. Not everyone is surviving. But to the extent that some are, they are putting off funding certain projects, they are using part-time faculty. Catholic institutions were among the earliest and the best at instituting weekend and night programs for adults. Thats a new revenue stream with not much new cost. Often what they cant pay for in cash they try to get in volunteer services from their communities, Yanikoski said.
Catholic schools are in a bind, Yanikoski said, explaining that they tend to have smaller endowments and lower rates of alumni donation than their secular counterparts. Meanwhile, they have a deep ethical requirement to serve the less affluent and to educate for lives of social service -- leading to alumni whose careers are often not as financially lucrative and whose donations to their alma maters are smaller. But as exorbitant as tuition appears, it still doesnt cover the true cost of educating a student, Yanikoski said.
Even in the highest-priced institutions, the students do not pay for the total worth of what they receive. Thats paid for from the endowments, donations and other measures, he said, citing research by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Past and current college presidents, administrators and members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit College and Universities said financial pressure and subsequently increasing tuition bills dont come from boards of trustees but from the market itself. Students and their parents expect a high level of services and amenities on campus, and faculty need to be compensated in rough relation to their peers at deeper pocketed institutions.
The boards realize that the mission issues are not the responsibility of the priests or nuns, Currie said of boards of trustees. Contemporary trustees at our schools are very interested in mission. We always say the mission bottom line is as important as the financial bottom line.
But that dedicated approach doesnt change the stark financial realities.
Salaries and benefits for faculty and staff amount to approximately $140 million each year, said Jesuit Fr. Joseph McShane, president of Fordham University in New York. More than $150 million is allocated to financial aid. But with a total endowment of just $500 million (compared to $1 billion at Boston College) the interest on investments does not earn the income necessary to provide financial aid to everyone who needs it, he said. While 91 percent of Fordhams freshman class received some form of financial aid, McShane said the university still needed to do more. We have a long way to go to be able to grow the endowment in a way that allows us to be true to our mission of educating students of modest means, he said.
Fordham has traditionally served and continues to have a very important mission to educate first-generation students and students of modest backgrounds. This is a challenging mission and a joyfully challenging one. Access and affordability issues are central to us.
Colleges and universities are striving to remain faithful to a Catholic mission by providing high levels of financial aid, lobbying the U.S. Congress to fund larger federal education grants and by relying on tireless fundraising, volunteer efforts and cost cutting, according to administrators.
Jesuit Fr. Robert Caro said maintaining and increasing economic diversity is a major priority at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angles where he is vice president for Mission and Ministry. Caro is president of the Conference on Mission and Identity of the Association of Jesuit College and Universities.
I would say, thinking of our own experience here, it is a matter of how they allocate resources. There was an operational expenses cap here last year in order to add to financial aid. Its a matter of how you use resources.
Eileen Markey is a freelance writer who lives in Bronx, N.Y.
National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2007
|Copyright © The
National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd.,
Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280 Send comments about this Web site to: email@example.com