Tim Pietz | Contributor
"I came for a visit, I fell in love with the place, I saw the tuition price, and I had a heart attack." That's how junior Sean Quillen describes his first experience with the financial side of Taylor University.
"Where does it all go?" asked senior Hope Bolinger. "I'll just see not a whole lot of things have changed (on campus) but then all of a sudden tuition will go up every single year."
Bolinger added that she wished Taylor was more transparent about where money is going - and many other students share her questions.
According to Stephen Olson, Taylor University's Vice President for Business and Finance, Taylor's staff and faculty cost 60% of the budget. Still, many of Taylor's staff and faculty don't earn as much as they would at a community college.
"So there's a lot of people here who are working here sacrificially because they care about Taylor, they care about our students, they care about kingdom purposes, and so on, so they want to make that sacrifice financially," Olson said.
While Taylor's amount per salary may be smaller, its number of employees is higher in certain areas compared to other colleges.
"Taylor's a very people-oriented place," Olson said. "We're not an online college, so our money isn't purely on technology platforms, it's in people costs. That's why there's a resident hall director in every dorm and there's a lot of people in student development and a lot of people in the faculty. We believe in full time faculty rather than a lot of adjunct faculty. But those decisions and that philosophy requires a financial commitment."
Olson said Taylor's order of expenses are people, facilities, technology, and then everything else left over. Those top expenses - particularly people and facilities - are difficult to trim down.
Olson describes laying off necessary staff or faculty as shortsighted. It puts Taylor in the position of either trying to hire those people again a year later or trying to limp along without them. But cutting back on facility maintenance has its own penalties.
"The easy ones are the ones you end up paying for later on," Olson said. "So I can go ahead and cut the budget for maintenance on a building with relatively little pain this fiscal year-and I can get some big money out of that, too, to make the budget balance. But that doesn't help when next year or five years down the road that piece of equipment or that wall or that roofing system is in failure mode now and I've got to pay more to get it fixed on an emergency basis."
When asked about expenses students often overlook, Olson immediately named the dining program. Providing a variety of options is expensive, and since Hodson is all you can eat, many people take more than they need. All that waste is costly.
Paying for all these costs can be a heavy burden on students, but Taylor's financial aid programs are dedicated to making Taylor affordable.
"When you look at our scholarships, it would appear they are all or mostly merit-based, and yet, probably out of our whole institutional budget, 65% of our money is going to help meet a student's need," said Tim Nace, Associate Vice President of Financial Aid.
According to Nace, the average Taylor student pays $24,000 out-of-pocket after scholarships and grants but not accounting for loans. What's more, 98% of students receive some form of financial aid.
When Quillen received his financial award letter, he was shocked.
"I literally dropped the paper and bawled like a baby," Quillen said. "I was just so overwhelmed."
Thanks to a cultural diversity scholarship and need-based grants, Quillen was able to attend Taylor. He even earned an academic scholarship partway through, which further eased his financial burden.
Examples like Quillen's captures the goal of Taylor's financial leadership: to provide students a high quality Christ-centered education. The struggle is maintaining the quality of that education without raising financial barriers to students.
For Olson and Taylor's other financial leaders, making these decisions isn't just business, it's emotional.
"We really want the Taylor education to be affordable and accessible for everyone who wants it," said Olson. "And we recognize that $43,000 a year - that's a sticker price, basically-is not an easy number for many families. Totally recognize that. I'd want students to know just how hard we grapple with that decision, to keep the price where it's at or to raise the price. You know, it'd be wonderful if it was $15,000 - that'd be great! But it's not going to happen. It's just not reality."