At Western University of Health Sciences, we – educators, support staff, and trustees – recognize two crucial issues of interest to our students: the special nature of health professions education and the distinction between the cost and price of that education. Explaining the relationship of these issues can be a difficult task, for the subject is filled with complexities. But if you are considering a degree program at Western University, we urge you to take the time to read the following discussion.
Cost and Price
Some of the public believes that medical and health professions schools cost too much. For example, for the price of a year at a private medical school, you can buy a top-of-the-line sports car. Some also feel colleges don’t care what they charge. At Western University we are sensitive to the concern of our students, their families and alumni about the price of their education. We know you are concerned about how much that price will increase in the years ahead and about how you can afford your education. So let’s discuss this candidly, starting with the distinction between “the cost” and “the price” of running our University.
“The cost” is what the University spends to educate a student – everything from salaries, educational equipment, buildings and insurance, to computers and energy and security. It is the total expenditures for the entire educational enterprise we call Western University.
“The price” is what students are charged for that education – the amount of tuition and fees that is found in our catalog each year. However, it is important to realize that students do not pay the full cost of their education. By contrast, at a public university much of the cost is covered by state appropriations to the institution. At private universities such as ours, part of the cost is subsidized by philanthropy, endowment income and foundation and government grants.
The important fact is that full tuition at Western University covers only about 85 percent of what it actually costs to educate a student. Moreover, tuition rate increases do not follow consumer price increases, as some believe, because the goods and services we purchase to operate Western University are different from those contained in the Consumer Price Index. For example, books and journals, construction, maintenance and scientific equipment increase at rates higher than those of a spiffy new car. Western University, as a private institution, functions at no expense to the taxpayers. The reason tuition is lower at public universities is not because of greater efficiencies, but because of sizeable state subsidies from taxpayers. This means that student tuition covers less of the student’s actual education costs. The cost of providing the educational experience is basically the same for both public and private universities.
Special Nature of Western University
Now let’s look at what is unique and special about Western University. While it is true that we must use sound business practices, we are, above all, an educational institution. This means we are the repository of knowledge, the site of exploration, the catalyst for personal growth, the center of human understanding and one of the sources for the development of the country’s health professions workforce.
A Western University education is an experience that touches and enriches a student’s life in a profound way and helps define who you are and what you will become. It develops bonds with classmates and the University that will continue after graduation and throughout your career in the health professions. While it is essential that we continue working to control costs and make Western University affordable to every qualified applicant, it is also essential that we never do anything to weaken our education program in an effort to make it less expensive.
Western University is set in a climate of competent, caring and compassionate people, where innovation and growth are encouraged and enabled. As a result, there is a value-added component that makes Western University unique. In a quarter century, we have developed quality accredited educational programs and we continue to strive for excellence. We have earned a national reputation, our graduates obtain the best internships and residencies and professional employment, and we increasingly attract support from foundations and philanthropic sources. That is the foundation of the “Western University Experience.” In order to sustain this quality, we must continue to invest in critical human and material resources, which are typically costly annual expenditures. Some of those resources are:
- Support for faculty and staff who are excellent at what they do – since Western University is highly labor intensive, salaries and benefits absorb a much greater share of expenditures than would be typical in the nonacademic world. Salaries and benefits for employees represent approximately two-thirds of our total operating costs.
- Investment in facilities, equipment and up-to-date technology – we must ensure that the campus and its facilities are safe, attractive and comfortable.
- Supportive services – it is important that students, faculty, and staff have available the most current services, such as financial aid, campus security, insurance for the University, and library and information learning resources.
- Administrative expertise – we must employ individuals with a wide range of administrative and legal expertise, both to protect Western University’s institutional interests and to handle the host of increasingly complicated and costly regulatory requirements from governmental and accrediting agencies.
- Financial expertise – we also need to employ qualified professionals to handle increasingly sophisticated financial matters in fund raising, annuities, institutional investments, etc.
What is the value of a Western University education? Let’s refer back to the analogy of the expensive car. Yes, it is true that a year’s tuition could buy a very nice car. But remember, a year later that car will be worth thousands of dollars less, while that year at Western University is an investment in your future. It has bought learning, personal and professional development, and entry into a career that has the promise of improving the way we live on our planet. A Western University education appreciates in value rather than depreciates.
How, then, can one put a price tag on such an education? To take on the calling of a healer suggests that one’s motivation goes beyond simply expecting a high financial return on one’s investment. Twenty years from now, when that shiny new car is most likely a recycled block of steel, it will virtually have no value. But those years wisely invested at Western University will result in a lifetime of benefits. We often hear from our students, alumni and their families that a Western University education has meant a great deal to them, and they are grateful. Many tell us this is one of the best investments they could ever make.
While the “price” of an education at Western University and the resulting debt from that investment may seem high, we believe that the benefits to you and, ultimately, to the society you will serve, are enormous.
Sources: National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities – Royce Stutzman, CPA, January 2005