WPI Trustees Set Tuition for 2012-2013

President Berkey's Letter to the Community Puts Tuition and Value of WPI Degree into Perspective.

President Berkey's Letter to the Community Puts Tuition and Value of WPI Degree into Perspective.

To WPI Students and Parents:

The WPI Board of Trustees recently set tuition and fees for the 2012-13 academic year, announcing an increase of 3.4 percent for tuition and fees, and room and board. This brings the list price for undergraduate tuition and fees to $41,380. Our tuition increases have been held significantly below national averages for the past several years, and we expect the same to be true for the 2012-13 academic year.

No price increase is ever welcome, and those of college tuition are of as much concern in the media as at the kitchen table, and even recently in President Obama’s State of the Union address and subsequent remarks. For many students and their families the cost of higher education is the largest investment, other than for a home, they will ever make. As such, it is an investment that should be examined critically for its value, just as one would do with real property.

I am proud to say that the value proposition for an undergraduate education at WPI is very strong, among the strongest in the nation. Our graduates are in high demand by industry, with 90 percent in full-time employment or in excellent graduate programs within six months of graduation. They command starting salaries averaging nearly $60,000 per year. Their retention rate from freshman to sophomore year is 95 percent, and their four and six year graduation rates are well above national averages. They experience an average discount on tuition, due to financial aid, of approximately 40 percent. And their average debt load upon graduation is approximately $27,500, which is manageable in comparison with starting salaries and lifetime career earning potential. These data are impressive measures of value, and speak directly to the concerns articulated by the media and the federal government.

Just as important, however, are the characteristics of our students and our faculty. I have served a number of colleges and universities, and I have never seen happier or harder working students than those at WPI. Our learning environment is collaborative, rather than competitive, and our students thrive on working hard together for high achievement, whether in the classroom, the project team, the athletic field, the orchestra, the science laboratory, the Worcester community, or one of the hundreds of clubs and organizations that they have created on the campus. Similarly, our faculty are among the most dedicated and effective educators in higher education. Four of them have been honored in recent years with the Massachusetts “teacher of the year” award. They spend generous amounts of time with their students, taking seriously their roles as mentors and advisors as well as teachers, and they bring their students into their research labs, their academic projects, and their homes. The same faculty who are doing cutting-edge research on important developments in engineering and science are also the people who advise student teams at project centers around the world and challenge our freshmen in the Great Problems Seminars in their very first weeks and months on our campus. Finally, our curriculum provides what we believe is the best kind of preparation for achievement and fulfillment in this increasingly interconnected, global innovation economy. Strong preparation in the core areas of science and engineering is balanced with a broad engagement with the arts and humanities, and enriched and put to important use in the substantial projects that are part of the WPI degree requirements. WPI engineering and science graduates are well educated, and well prepared to make important contributions throughout their lives and careers.

One of my primary concerns as president is to attract and retain the strongest faculty who are well-suited to the demanding roles in teaching and research. During my presidency, now in its eighth year, we have improved the compensation for our faculty from below average for our comparison group to significantly above it, at an annual rate of increase of approximately 3 percent. Because wages and salaries comprise a great majority of our operating budget, this item alone accounts for most of the recent annual increases of 2.9 to 3.4 percent in tuition. As is the case in nearly all businesses and nonprofit organizations, our costs for employee health insurance have been increasing far above the rate of tuition increase, as have costs for many of the types of instrumentation, software, and technical materials needed in our laboratories, our library, and our teaching facilities. Increased professional staffing for student academic advising, personal and career counseling, and campus safety have been important additional investments, while increased reporting and compliance regulations from the federal and state governments have required increased amounts of staff time and expense.

To offset much of this increased cost of operations, we have worked assiduously to control cost, increase the efficiency of our operations, and raise nontraditional revenues from such sources as corporate education and training, expanded graduate offerings, and simple, old-fashioned fundraising. We have nearly completed the leadership phase of a $200 million capital campaign, titled “If... The Campaign to Advance WPI,” which we will move into the public phase later this spring, the highest priority in which is to raise additional endowment support for student scholarships.

It remains true at WPI, as at nearly all colleges and universities, that the “list price” of attendance, even before reductions due to student financial aid, does not fully equal the actual costs of operating this institution at the high level of quality that both you and I insist upon. While we have had impressive successes in further developing our beautiful and functional campus, our outstanding academic programs, and our important mission to enable our students to make important impacts in the world, we cannot avoid having to pass along a portion of the increased costs of operations in the form of increases in tuition and other fees. While WPI’s increases have been relatively modest in comparison with the norms in higher education, they are nonetheless significant factors in the financial realities with which our students and their families must cope. We greatly appreciate the support you express in our institution and in our work together by your willingness to make this investment, no greater aspect of which is the confidence and trust parents place in us for the high quality education we are committed to providing for their sons and daughters.

Thank you for everything you do to enable the continuing success of WPI, its students and faculty, and for your appreciation for the best of American higher education that is being delivered every day on the WPI campus.

Yours sincerely,
Dennis D. Berkey
President and CEO

P.S. Having completed a number of too-long drafts of this important letter, I cannot help but share a remarkable instance of validation for many of our claims. Recently, the New York Times wrote an in-depth story on the less-than-expected graduation rates of students studying science or engineering at U.S. colleges. “Why Science Majors Change Their Mind” cited studies that show roughly 40 percent of students majoring in engineering or science either change majors or drop out. The reasons, according to the article, ranged from difficulty of the subject matter to a failure of colleges to teach applied knowledge. About halfway through the story, however, the Times pointed to one university that appears to be doing science and engineering education right, reporting graduation rates significantly higher than most, and pointing to a litany of completed student projects that would be the envy of any college. That university was WPI-and rightfully so. The education here is rigorous, the faculty among the best in the world, the curriculum cutting-edge and results-oriented, and the facilities and learning environment first-rate. More, WPI is fueled by an outstanding student body with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, expertise, and wisdom - all focused on disciplines and subject matter that are vital to the future of our country. And that is an investment in ourselves we can all be proud of.

I hope this letter, and this little tale of recognition, provides a better perspective toward our recent tuition increase and the value of a WPI education. I also hope it offers sound evidence that your investment in a WPI education is well-placed, and will provide lifelong dividends. - DDB

March 1, 2012

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