On a budget: Where your tuition money actually goes

In total, net tuition from all Chapman students comes out to be about $254.6 million and makes up about 73 percent of the budget, according to the Chapman consolidated financial statements report for the 2017-2018 year. Photo courtesy Harold Hewitt.

Every year, for two to three weeks, Memorial Lawn is covered in builders erecting a large tent-like structure for the annual gala, Chapman Celebrates. Boards are placed, beams are set, lights are hung. Memorial Lawn is barely recognizable by the end, the grass changing from a bright green to a dull brown. But, without fail, within weeks, that grass will be back to its lush color and the lawn will be looking vibrant again. This is all thanks to students’ tuition money.   

In the 2016-2017 school year, Chapman’s total expenditures for groundskeeping were $632,663 according to Harold Hewitt, Chapman’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Majority of this is coming from students’ tuition. Few students know how their tuition money is used or if the decisions regarding its use are in sync with their own priorities, values, and educational needs.  

“I have no clue where most of the money goes,” said Sophie Lee, a junior English major. “I bet the hundreds of millions of dollars in donations we get probably goes into funding all of these new buildings that we need in order to promote the face of the school, but I would like to see a breakdown of where my tuition goes.”

“It’s a very straightforward process and is presented to the campus every year,” Hewitt said. “We’re reviewing recommendations from upper-level staff. It’s not just us making all the decisions.”

In total, net tuition from all Chapman students comes out to be about $254.6 million and makes up about 73 percent of the budget, according to the Chapman consolidated financial statements report for the 2017-2018 year. The rest of the budget is made up of gifts, auxiliary sources (books, dining plans, residence halls), other sources and the school’s endowment. But, by in large, the total funds for the school year come from the money students pay.

One rumor that floats around campus is that the money allotted for grounds keeping is the same amount of money allotted for scholarship, Lee said. But the numbers paint a different picture.

“Chapman’s contributions to student financial aid exceed $90 million per year, and it increases each year,” Hewitt said. “While some students may feel their financial aid is not sufficient, as you can see, there is absolutely no truth to this rumor.”  

The $90 million a year that Chapman gives out in financial aid comes from both tuition money as well as federal subsidies, Hewitt said. While this number is large in theory, some students still feel they are not receiving the financial aid they deserve. Lee, an international student from London, said that she doesn’t think the admission department gives enough credit to international standards.

“Chapman scholarship is unfairly distributed in that it is given mainly to American students because the admissions don’t look into other countries’ qualifications and how hard we have had to work,” Lee said.

There are some students who maintain high GPAs and receive no scholarship funding from the school, which Lee said is unfair.

“Students on scholarship should be re-evaluated annually so that they continue to earn their scholarships,” she said. “It’s like a trap for those who don’t receive funding. It feels like once you’re in, they’ve got you and your money.”

A running joke among students is that the orientation fireworks are tuition money lit on fire, said senior computer science major Michael Brutsch.

“It’s hilarious,” Brutsch said. “I get that the fireworks are cool, but it’s a recurring joke that the school takes our individual tuition dollars and lights them on fire in a blaze of glory for the incoming freshmen.”

The total funds for orientation come out to $375,000 a year, Hewitt said. The fireworks individually cost $2,000 to $3,000 with the greatest cost of orientation being the cost of meals.

“All orientation funding comes from the unrestricted operating budget, which in turn comes primarily from net tuition, gifts, and endowment support,” Hewitt said.

Total tuition for the 2017-2018 school year was $25,105 without room and board fees, textbooks or dining plan costs. About one-fifth of Chapman students pay full tuition costs, said Jim Whitaker, associate vice chancellor of enrollment. This is not surprising with the $90 million that goes toward financial aid for students.

Whitaker said another one-fifth of students are Pell Grant eligible, meaning they are classified by the Federal Government as ‘high need’ students and receive federal and institutional aid. Of the remaining three-fifths of students, some receive merit aid and some need-based aid depending on their circumstances, Whitaker said.

This cuts down the amount of money coming into the school from student tuition money. But Chapman provosts and deans put in hours of work to define the budget as best they can.  

“I don’t want to underestimate the time the provost office spends working with the deans,” said Mike Price, the assistant vice president for finance and budget. “That is where the big area is, it’s a really big process.”

Part of what goes into deciding the budget each year is what the five-year plan of Chapman dictates the school should be working on.

“One of the great but unusual things President Emeritus Jim Doti did was organize Chapman’s ambitions in a series of five-year strategic plans. So every budget must tie into these plans,” Hewitt said. “What the five-year plan has us working on now is moving more in the direction of health sciences.”

The soon-to-be-completed $130 million Keck Center for Science and Technology is part of this five-year plan, implemented when Doti was president and  continued now by Struppa. Photo courtesy Harold Hewitt.

The soon-to-be-completed $130 million Keck Center for Science and Technology is part of this five-year plan, implemented when Doti was president and continued now by Struppa.  

While students are excited about this new science building, some wonder if there are better things the money could go toward.

“It’s great that we are getting this new building. It doesn’t really affect me since I’ll be graduating, but I understand the importance of it,” Brutsch said. “I’m curious if there are other things this money could go toward, but I still think it’s a great step for our education at Chapman. I just wish I could use it.”

The breakdown of the Chapman budget is no secret and is released on the Chapman website after it is finalized every year to the student body. But it can be complicated to understand and not interesting to students. While the school doesn’t hide what it spends money on, it doesn’t take input from the students.

The process begins with the deans and their faculty and moves up the ladder from there. While students might not understand all that has to be taken into account when deciding the budget, some wish there could be more of a student hand in choosing where the money goes.

“If most of the money that the university receives comes from our tuition, I feel like we should have more of a say on where it goes,” Lee said. “I get it. We’re just students and that’s a lot of money to be dealing with. But even just a survey of what students want would be great. I should have a say in where my money is going. That’s all I want.”

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