The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

A low student-to-faculty ratio is one measure of a college's quality. Salaries and benefits account for more than 40 percent of Colgate's budget.
by James Leach

After lunch at Frank Dining Hall ($4 million in 1985; operated1 for $269,800 annually; serving 1,012 meals daily), you might hustle across one of the most beautiful college quadrangles in America ($916,100/year for campus grounds) to Olin Hall ($1.6 million in 1964; $11.6 million to remove asbestos, expand and modernize labs in 1989; operated for $244,300 annually) to pick up your psychology paper.

You would probably spend a few minutes discussing this latest assignment with your professor ($62,600 plus benefits) in the laboratory ($458,500 per year for equipment in the natural sciences) where she was preparing experiments for the eleven students in your class, and where she also conducts her own research, which keeps her professionally in touch.

Since you are right next door, you could decide to grab a cup of coffee in O'Connor Campus Center while you check your mail, both U.S. ($216,560/year to run Colgate Station) and e- ($1.9 million to install a campuswide network). At the Coop's computer lab (one of several satellite locations across campus making 675 computers available to students), you might also put the finishing touches on your history paper before leaving for class at Persson Hall (opened in 1994 with $7.1 million in gifts; operated for $99,185/year).

Your class of thirteen meets in a wired classroom where you each work at your own computer ($2,500) under the guidance of an economist ($62,600 plus benefits) whose work is published regularly in professional journals. Today's class is based on experiences from a one-semester sabbatical leave spent studying the economy of a South American country while an adjunct faculty member ($20,000) taught the professor's classes.

Case Library, at the heart of the academic enterprise, employs 32 faculty and staff, provides electronic access to collections at Colgate and around the world, and spends $1.4 million annually to build and replace library holdings.
Heading down the hill you would probably stop at Case Library, with its combined collections of more than one million volumes ($1.4 million/year to expand and replace library holdings), to research an assignment. Searching the library's electronic catalogue, Mondo ($280,000 to purchase and install in 1989; $40,000/year to maintain), on one of more than 50 library computers, you could identify four books and 27 articles on your topic. One of 32 faculty and staff in the library (average salary $30,550 plus benefits) would direct you to the books and articles, and order via inter-library loan (average transaction $30.00) those that are not on an electronic database ($123,000/year) or in the collection. The staff member at the desk ($30,550) would check you out and you would head for your room in the Parker Apartments ($2 million in 1982; $180,675/ year to operate).

As you made your way down College Street, you might hear a roar from Varsity Field ($202,660 for athletic plant maintenance), where the women's soccer team ($134,500 for equipment, coaching and travel) had just gone one goal up on Patriot League ($13,500 share in administrative costs) rival Navy. The campus safety officer ($830,665 for personnel and equipment) controlling traffic at the gate would wave you through. As you sat in the stands you could look across the field at Andy Kerr Stadium ($2.7 million in gifts for new stands in 1991; $13,785/year to maintain) or glance left at Sanford Field House ($6.1 million in 1987; $111,551 to operate) and remember that it was the beauty of the campus and the quality of the facilities that helped you decide on Colgate. Of course, the admission office ($1,946,620) sent representatives to your high school and corresponded with you, too. They might even have sent you a copy of The Colgate Scene ($163,000/year to print and mail).

After the game, a Colgate victory, you would cross the street to your room and learn that your best friend and roommate -- a high school valedictorian and cellist from Oregon who was able to attend the college because of financial aid (average Colgate grant $14,900) -- was at the health service center ($505,190/year to staff and equip) being checked for strep throat.

Maybe you'd log on to the computer in your room ($813,000 to network student residences) and boot up the World Wide Web ($35,000 for a high-speed T-1 line) to get onto the Internet and check the weather forecast and the college's calendar of events. You'd learn that you had your choice that evening among a concert by a world-class string quartet ($60,000/ year for visiting artists), a first-run, Take Two movie, or a band in the Pub ($175,000 annually in program funds for student activities).

Remodeled in 1995, the Edge Café doubles as a dining hall and a popular alcohol-free nightclub. Campus construction, maintenance and renovation account for a substantial portion of the college's annual appropriations.
You would flip on your desk lamp ($679,000 in village electrical charges each year) and knuckle down to your studies for three hours before dinner. On your way back up the Hill you would stop at Huntington Gym for a half-hour workout on the stairmaster in the Wm. Brian Little Fitness Center ($1.2 million in gifts in 1994; staffed and operated for $78,100/year). You'd have dinner at The Edge Café (remodeled in 1995 for $1.8 million), which doubles as a alcohol-free nightclub, then head to the chapel (operated for $53,830/year) for the concert.

After the concert, you might meet a friend at the Barge Canal Coffee Company (renovated in 1996 for $160,000; subsidized as a student activity) to talk about her upcoming semester abroad in Dijon, France (21 study groups: $1.2 million). Then you would probably turn in early, because tomorrow you would have a job interview arranged by Career Services ($449,500 for staff and program, $20,190 to operate Spear House).

The cost of quality
"The families who send their sons and daughters to the highest quality residential colleges have chosen an alternative in which classroom teaching is surrounded by other services and opportunities from the most basic, daily needs to the most sophisticated technologies," said Financial Vice President and Treasurer Elizabeth Eismeier. "There is a high cost to providing this sort of educational experience, but parents who make this choice, and alumni who are engaged with this college and support the students who come after them, believe in what we are doing."

By far the single largest allocation in the Colgate budget -- nearly 41 cents of every budget dollar -- is for people. But unlike many businesses, there are few efficiencies available that would reduce costs for faculty and staff at the college without affecting the quality of education.

"Corporations historically increase their productivity by investing in machinery that makes each worker more productive," said President Neil Grabois. "But you can't run a college that way. You can't have a string quartet without having four players.

"You could ask, why don't we have faculty teach more courses? -- not teach more students per class, because that would affect the experience, but teach more courses. If we did that, however, we would no longer be competitive for the very best people and the quality of our education would suffer."

To remain effective teachers, faculty must maintain an enthusiastic commitment to their disciplines, Grabois said. The best colleges support that commitment by making the time and resources available for faculty to read and write and pursue their scholarship. At liberal arts colleges such as Colgate, where even the most senior faculty are teachers foremost, the investment is returned in the quality of teaching that is delivered to students.

Of administrative costs, Grabois said: "Because nearly all the schools with which we compete have more resources to cover their costs than we do, we have to be more efficient. Our administrative work force is smaller by every measure in order to focus our resources on the central mission of the institution, which is the education of students."

Many cost increases in the past two decades have been driven by the expectations of prospective students and their parents. "There is a richness on campus that did not exist in the '70s," said Eismeier.

"People expect more services," said Grabois, and that extends from counseling, to support for activities, to health services. "It applies at every level of society," Grabois added, "from the houses we live in to the cars we drive to the vacations we take. Could we live with less? Certainly, but we are not willing to. The same holds true at colleges, and we are challenged to meet the expectations of students and their parents in order to remain competitive. That is one of the significant reasons that a college education costs what it does today."

Adds Eismeier, "We believe that the services we provide are generally necessary and in demand. If expectations were to change we would reexamine the scope of our services."

The fastest growing area in college and university budgets in recent years has been the cost of information technology, and it is a case again where institutions are forced to keep pace if they are to equip their students for life in a modern world. "To stay on pace with what people expect of us, we have to keep pace with advances in technology," said Grabois.

Advances in technology are connected directly to the acceleration of knowledge. "We are trying to teach students how to respond quickly to information that is multiplying even as they seek to understand it," said Eismeier. "It's not a matter any longer of sitting down in a corner and reading one book. We are equipping students with the tools of analysis that will allow them to stay on top of rapidly expanding information."

Information technology - computers, software and the networks that connect Colgate people to one another and the rest of the world - is one of the fastest-growing areas of the college budget.
Within the past three years the college has been completely networked and information technology services from the academic computing center to audio visual services to administrative data processing have been consolidated into a new, more responsive division that addresses campus computing as a whole. Not only have students and faculty come on line in this transformation -- communicating with one another via e-mail, searching the library's collections electronically from their rooms and other remote locations, even registering for classes via computer through a master database -- but prospective students and alumni are increasingly communicating with the college electronically. One recent, typical day, more than 160 inquiries filtered in through the admission site on the internet, while nearly 300 people logged into the on-line version of The Colgate Scene.

There is no questioning the demand, and there is no alternative for a college of quality but to keep pace.

A portion of Colgate's costs, like those of other private colleges, is driven by a commitment to provide financial aid to qualified students with a demonstrated need. Roughly 40 percent of Colgate students receive grants from the college.

As donors have responded to the appeal for funds in the Campaign for Colgate, an increasing percentage of support for student aid has come from endowed funds and gifts designated specifically for that purpose. Still, the college is in a position where support for student aid continues to come from returns on unrestricted endowment and tuition.

Says Eismeier, "The cost of financial aid raises the question, `Is the college better off for having all these students supported by aid?' The answer is `Yes.' Each aided student adds something special to the community. Would a parent whose child is not on aid want to have that child attend a college where there are no scholarships? I think that would be a diminished educational experience."

Issues of cost confront college presidents nationwide, and Grabois' senior administrators have come to know him as a frugal guardian of the college's resources and an analytical examiner of each new funding proposal. "He challenges us to accommodate change and growth in new directions by reallocating our time and energy," said Eismeier.

In the final analysis, however, Grabois the mathematician is a pragmatist. "How did we get to where we are now?" he asks. "Fundamentally it was through a concern for quality. If it was necessary to raise our price to provide a quality advantage, we were prepared to do that. Colgate has been inordinately efficient in providing that quality. Reducing our costs significantly would substantially affect the nature of the experience our students receive.

"Fortunately, while the public may complain about the price of private higher education, most value what we are doing and realize that our cost is a function of our quality."

1 Heating, electricity, water, cleaning and maintenance.