At the Heart of Our Mission
President’s Letter to Alumni and Friends
I believe President Obama is correct when he says that (1) now more than ever before Americans need a college education to succeed in the global economy and (2) for many Americans cost is a barrier to obtaining that education. The President has asked colleges and universities to take a leading role in controlling or reducing college costs. First, it is important to understand why these costs are such an increasing problem.
The two primary reasons are that real family income (after controlling for inflation) has decreased in the United States for the last 16 years; meanwhile, states have slashed their support of public higher education for at least the last 20 years, with accelerated cuts over the last five. Additional contributing factors include the cost of modernizing information technology and the evolving demographics of the college-going population.
Higher education is a labor intensive industry. In the general economy, wages have been stagnant because of the globalization of the work force; and the increasing use of technology in the workplace has caused a decrease in jobs. In higher education, it takes a lot of skilled and highly educated people to recruit a class, and then educate, exercise, feed and support them.
The question remains: What can colleges do to control these increasing costs? At a school like Lasell, no one is overpaid; almost everyone could earn more doing something else. Nor are we overstaffed. Despite a 60% increase in full-time faculty in the last six years, the overall size of our faculty is still not optimal to deliver the student-centered education that is at the heart of our mission. We continue to have critical holes in our staff, as well. So what can we do?
There are two primary avenues open to us: collaborate with other institutions in order to gain economies of scale and become more efficient; and take advantage of new technologies to deliver a high quality academic experience at a lower cost.
At Lasell, we have been doing both. Here are a few examples of actions we have taken to make college more affordable.
We have expanded our police department to provide public safety services not only for Lasell College and Lasell Village but now also for Mount Ida College, across town in Newton. This agreement saves money for both colleges, offers a much higher level of service for Mount Ida, and provides a greater depth of personnel and services for the entire Lasell College community.
· In a pilot program among Brandeis, Regis, Mount Ida, Newbury, Pine Manor and Lasell, six colleges are working together to provide management supervisory training to mid-level staff members, a service none of us could afford on our own.
· We joined The Boston Consortium for Higher Education Risk Management Group to reduce our liability, property and casualty insurance costs by almost $100,000 while increasing our coverage up to five-fold in some areas and obtaining coverage in other areas, from which we were previously excluded.
· Lasell is a founding member of CEVoNE (Collaborative Educational Ventures of New England) whose first venture was to join together 26 Massachusetts colleges to provide health insurance. This consortium allowed us, this academic year, to improve coverages, reduce co-pays and lower premium costs.
· This past summer, 174 of our undergraduates took advantage of our online courses, offered at costs substantially below the tuition charges during the regular school year. Because of the success of the summer program, we will be significantly expanding the number of offerings again next summer and are planning to initiate a program of intensive courses for January in 2015.
We will continue to look for more ways to build upon these early efforts to control costs. In the face of the societal forces that make paying for college more difficult than ever, we at Lasell remain focused on our primary goal: to do the best possible job of contributing to the intellectual and personal development of each and every student.
Michael B. Alexander