A Worthy Investment
When I look out over the sea of graduates at commencement each year, it’s awe-inspiring to think about the enormous potential sitting before me. Which of them will go out into the world and cure a disease, or mitigate poverty and inequality? Which will inspire us with their art or ignite the mind of a child in the classroom? Which will lead a nation?
Higher education is an investment in a better future for all of us. A college degree benefits both individuals and our society, and the favorable returns to both are well documented.
Even though it has become popular to question the value of a college degree relative to overall tuition costs, the number of students pursuing a college education continues to grow. This fall American colleges and universities enrolled 20.5 million students, representing more than 6.3 percent of the total U.S. population and an increase of 5.2 million students since 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Policymakers and other experts agree that the U.S. needs more college-educated citizens to ensure future prosperity. The Pew Research Center has reported that the economic disparities between those who go to college and those who don’t have never been greater. College graduates command higher salaries, experience much lower rates of unemployment, and report greater career satisfaction than those without a degree.
So how do colleges and universities contribute to the nation’s talent pool while containing costs?
The great equalizer in this debate is financial aid. It is the piece of the higher education cost narrative that is most overlooked or ignored in the search for simple solutions to an extremely complex issue.
Financial aid ensures that talented students from diverse backgrounds can earn a degree regardless of their means, and that they pay far less than the full price of tuition. Because of financial aid, a third of Tufts undergraduates pay a net tuition fee that is significantly less than the full price.
I received financial aid as an undergraduate, and I am acutely mindful of the sacrifices that many students and their families make to get a Tufts education. Financial aid has been—and will always be—one of my highest priorities. To that end, I issued this challenge in 2012: Tufts would tap into its unrestricted endowment funds to match gifts of $100,000 or more to new or existing endowed scholarships, thereby doubling their value and impact.
I am pleased to report that our four-year Financial Aid Initiative was extremely successful, raising $95 million. Our donors created 198 new scholarships and graduate student fellowships and contributed to 277 existing ones, thereby increasing the amount of financial aid dollars that we were able to disperse from those existing funds. The campaign allowed us to award a record $19.278 million in need-based grants to the undergraduate Class of 2020, and the average grant was $41,400.
Tufts remains committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of every undergraduate for four years.
The Financial Aid Initiative is supporting students across the university, raising, for example, $7.5 million for the School of Medicine. In addition, $2 million of the Jaharis Family Foundation Inc.’s recent $15 million gift to the medical school will be used to reduce the indebtedness of graduates who go into family medicine, a field in which the dire shortage of doctors jeopardizes the health and well-being of our country.
Educating students to address the significant challenges of the twenty-first century is an expensive endeavor. We strive to be careful stewards of our resources so that we can provide opportunities to even more promising students. We have streamlined and consolidated many of Tufts’ administrative functions, resulting in an annual net savings of $3.8 million that we’ll use to advance our academic priorities and curtail increases in tuition. One of the most pressing needs is to grow our financial aid resources.
The return on an investment in higher education is incalculable. What students gain in our classrooms, laboratories, and co-curricular activities will equip them to become the next great leaders, inventors, scientists, and social entrepreneurs. With each of their successes, we collectively are the beneficiaries.
—ANTHONY P. MONACO