Editorial | Prestige, but at what cost?


Illustrated by Gaby Fatone

It’s been 27 years since Chapman College became Chapman University. Now, 62 years after moving to its current location, the school has 8,542 students, more than 920 faculty members and an endowment of at least $322 million.

When Chapman first became a university in 1991, George Argyros, then chairman of the Board of Trustees, told the Los Angeles Times that Chapman didn’t “intend to become a massive university of the size of, say, a University of Southern California.”

Argyros also estimated that Chapman “wouldn’t want to get much larger” than an enrollment of 3,000 students. But Chapman’s 2017 freshman class, its largest ever, was about 1,600 students – more than half of Argyros’ projected total undergraduate enrollment. This year, applications to Chapman were up by nearly 8 percent, according to Mike Pelly, the vice president and dean of enrollment management.

Since 1991, a lot more than just Chapman’s size and name have changed. Chapman has traditionally been categorized as a liberal arts school, a philosophy of education that encompasses studies like language, philosophy, literature and abstract science, according to Merriam-Webster.

But this fall, the school opened the new $130 million Keck Center for Science and Engineering and was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious national honor society that boasts universities like Princeton and Harvard as members.

In reality, with its business and law schools founded in 1977 and 1995 respectively, Chapman more closely fits the bill of a research university, which “generally consist of graduate schools, professional schools in engineering, law (and) business,” according to nonprofit organization World Education Services.

That’s not to say Chapman has abandoned its liberal arts foundation – our student body is still relatively small, and Chapman’s 14:1 student-to-teacher ratio still stands, according the university’s website.

But with Chapman’s rapid growth, it’s hard to say how long those numbers will stay consistent. Chapman can’t have it both ways: a small, cozy liberal arts school and a thriving research university crammed into one campus, especially in a city that doesn’t welcome expansion or the increasing student body that comes with it.

It’s easy to be captivated by new, high-tech buildings, expensive student housing and fancy honor societies. With more donors and more expansion come benefits, but how much do those amenities really add to our college experience? Chapman’s prestige is increasing, but at a cost.

When schools become larger, class sizes tend to increase. Professors become less available. Parking availability lessens (and Chapman’s isn’t great to begin with). Housing becomes increasingly difficult to find, and Chapman becomes less and less like the small liberal arts school that many current students applied to.

Right now, Chapman University’s full-time yearly tuition rate for undergraduate students is $52,340. This amount does not include parking fees, Student Health Center fees or room and board.

From 2013 to 2018, tuition rose by almost 17 percent, and as the university continues to expand, it’s likely that the price of tuition will continue to rise to support the resources needed to accommodate a growing student body. This increase could edge out students who are already having trouble paying current rates, making Chapman more financially exclusive than it already is.

Change and progress aren’t bad things and Chapman’s administration shouldn’t be criticized simply for wanting better programs, buildings and rankings. But administrators need to decide what kind of school they want Chapman to be – it’s what future applicants deserve.