By Caty Hirst
The Great Recession has affected nearly every aspect of American life, including the ability of some students to get a Baylor education.
With a 7 percent tuition increase for 2009 and a 6.5 percent increase in 2010, some students are finding it more difficult to complete their schooling at Baylor.
Former Baylor student Jacob Kasitati was forced to leave during his sophomore year due to rising tuition costs at Baylor.
"I lost a couple scholarships that were a freshman-only thing from my high school," Kasitati said. "That wasn't so bad, but with tuition going up next year, I made the decision to leave. I didn't want to ask my parents to pay that much more."
Kasitati looked for alternatives to leaving, such as more scholarships and another job, but he did not have success.
"I was already working, cashiering," Kasitati said. "I didn't want to get another job because my grades would have been shot."
Kasitati is taking the current semester off to lay gas pipes in Louisiana and eastern Texas to save up money, with plans to attend Texas A&M University in the fall.
Dr. Reagan Ramsower, vice president for finance and administration, said some students are forced to leave because of financial stress.
"We have seen some students that have special family circumstances. We always have some," Ramsower said. "There have been more in the last year."
Despite rising tuition costs, Baylor does not increase the merit scholarships of current students to offset the costs of tuition.
"We package students for four years when they come in as freshmen," Ramsower said. "There are scholarships for upper-class students that they can apply for primarily from their schools and majors. There is a Web site where we list scholarships upper-class students can apply for."
Jordan Hannah, student body president, said this is the primary concern of students at Baylor. The Issue of the Week surveys include open-ended questions, which are most often used for students to express concerns about financial aid.
"Overall the affordability of a Baylor education is a major concern and we have been hearing it, in force," Hannah said. "Everyone has been telling us that. Based on those responses, we have made the affordability of the Baylor education our number one priority as far as advocacy to the Board of Regents and administration."
Hannah and other members of student government presented to the Board of Regents in the fall of 2009 about this issue and they have been working with the Baylor administration to come up with a solution.
Student government will present a proposal to the Board of Regents' during the May meeting. Hannah said they have some ideas for proposals.
"We would love to see a large-scale fundraising effort go through. We have not seen in Baylor's history a real large effort for that, which is surprising," Hannah said. "But that is something that is a big need right now."
Hannah believes the fundraising focus needs to change.
"The fundraising focus the last few years has been building projects, your athletic projects, sort of your more research projects," Hannah said. "Not that those aren't beneficial by any means. We just have not had some thing that really affects the entire student body and scholarships certainly do, and so we want to provide for the whole student body."
Baylor's endowment per student is down compared to other private schools in Texas. According to the 2009 Imperative XII progress report, Baylor's endowment per student breakdown for the fiscal year 2007 was $73,881. According to Southern Methodist Magazine, for 2006 SMU held $120,593 in endowment per student and according to the Office of Institutional Research at Rice University, the amount of Rice's endowment assets per full-time equivalent student is $946,785.
Hannah said the administration has been receptive to student concerns and expressed a willingness to work with student government in solving these problems.
"At the beginning of the year, the chairmen of the [Board of Regents] wanted to know what the main concern of students was and that's how we got out there and we asked students, 'What is your main concern?'" Hannah said. "The affordability of the Baylor education was the top."
Hannah is hopeful that a solution will be reached and enforced next year with Judge Ken Starr as the new president.
"When [student government] met with President-elect Starr, he asked 'What are the concerns of students?' and we told him the affordability of Baylor education," Hannah said. "So he certainly knows that and we had a discussion about that for a little while. I believe he really understand that issue."
The increase in tuition does not have a negative impact on incoming students, Ramsower said, because the scholarships that Baylor awards for incoming students is increasing.
"Because we have increased the scholarships, the actual tuition and fees that students pay is not going up at the same rate that the sticker price is going up," Ramsower said. "The actual tuition and fees is substantially less than the overall sticker price."
However, as former sophomore Andy Begay realized, this financial relief is not provided to current students.
Begay was also forced to leave this semester because of financial troubles.
"My parents and I met with people from the financial aid department, and even if they increased my financial aid, it still would have been too financially straining for us to bear," Begay said.
Kasitati and Begay both said if merit scholarships increased for current students with the tuition raises, they probably would not have had to leave Baylor.
"It is a possibility," Kasitati said. "It wasn't that much I needed."
Ramsower said Baylor operations have not been too harshly affected by the economy and the administration has not had to put in place any cutbacks.
"Everything has been able to move forward as planned," Ramsower said.
Ramsower believes this is due to good planning and stewardship.
"I think we have been working to be very good stewards of the university's resources," Ramsower said.