Tuition, salary increases chosen for 2015-16

Lane Barton

February’s Governing Board meetings resulted in the approval of a new budget for the 2015-16 academic year, which includes a three percent tuition increase along with salary increases of 3.5 percent for staff and three percent for faculty. The tuition increase is similar to the 2.9 percent increase in tuition made last year and reflects the goal of the college to remain competitive with similar institutions.

Tuition pays for roughly 70 percent of the college’s budget every academic year. Increases in tuition fund a number of different initiatives across campus, including hiring new faculty and staff, improving programs and building new facilities. While faculty salaries did not rise as quickly as tuition for much of the early 2000s, raises in salary have been similar to those in tuition and other college spending since the 2013-14 school year.

“It’s a balancing act and the balancing act is between trying to keep a Whitman education as affordable as we can to prospective and current students, as well as to make investments in strengthening the college,” said Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey.

The tuition and salary increases for the next academic year were selected by the Board of Trustees from a suggested range of increases put forward by the President’s Budget Advisory Committee. The board also considered recommendations by its Budget Committee that take into consideration factors such as inflation and competitiveness with similar institutions. For the past five years, tuition increases have ranged from 4.5 percent to 2.9 percent (or between 1.9 percent and 1.3 percent when adjusting for inflation). The upcoming tuition increase of 3 percent would be the lowest inflation-adjusted increase in the last five years, assuming inflation in 2015 stays at the five-year average of 2 percent.

Although tuition adjustments are important, another major consideration for the budget is figuring out salary increases for faculty and staff. Decisions regarding salary are important for Whitman to be a desirable school for new hires. For this reason, analysis of historic trends for salaries at Whitman and peer institution helps inform the decision of the both the President’s Budget Advisory Committee and the Board’s Budget Committee.

“It’s a balancing act in trying to retain and attract as many of our faculty and staff as we can with the knowledge that there is a constant fluctuation in what [peer colleges] are doing and trying to stay in the median or upper ranges [of salary] is something that’s strategic and important,” said AWSC Finance Chair Tabor Martinsen, who serves on the President’s Budget Advisory Committee.

The upcoming retirement of several faculty has allowed current faculty members to be given raises beyond the increase seen in the overall budget. Though the college is increasing spending on faculty salaries by three percent and staff salaries by 3.5 percent, the faculty members will see an effective raise in total funds equal to that of the staff due to the reallocation of funds.

“Because of some retirements, there’s going to be about another half-percent of monies available so the [faculty and staff percentages] will be in effect equal, but we didn’t have to use new monies to get the faculty up to 3.5 percent,” said Chair of the Faculty David Schmitz.

In general, the process requires a collaborative effort not only between the board, its Budget Committee and the President’s Budget Advisory Committee, but within each committee between various members as well.

“I’m always impressed with all of the students, faculty and staff. President Bridges and I ask all of them to wear the college hat as opposed to their individual perspective’s hat and look at what’s best for the college as a whole. I would observe that by-and-large everybody really does do that and considers all factors,” said Harvey.