A Closer Look: The unsurprising truth about your tuition

By Alex Park

On Oct. 17, proponents of a motion to cancel class in protest of the Iraq War failed to attract a sufficient number of faculty to hold a vote. The motion was dropped, and President Brian Rosenberg made it clear this week that, had it passed, he would not have supported it anyway. But with that in mind, let us just assume that this will not be the last time someone will want to cancel classes in the name of a cause. It certainly was not the first time. For most of us, that came late last year when talk of a day of “Change and Exchange” was circulating rapidly across campus.

That time, as with this one, people who were strongly against cancellation came out with a similar argument, and a similar line of reasoning: if the school is going to cancel class for the day, that means they are going to waste your money.

If only it were so simple.

If you were against cancellation, you might have found yourself advancing the following statistic along with many of your peers: at Macalester, one hour of class time costs $300 of your or your parents’ money. For an entire day, that’s up to $1,200, depending on what your schedule looks like and on whether the entire day gets the ax (Change and Exchange last year led to only two class periods being canceled). So to provide you some answers to the obvious questions that might ensue, here is food for thought on how that “statistic” is actually formulated.

Let’s start with the academic calendar. Classes began this semester on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and will continue until Friday, Dec. 14, the week before finals start. The time in between is 14.5 weeks, or 69 class days, when accounting for fall and Thanksgiving break. Assuming you’re taking a full load (12 class hours per week), that means you’re paying for some 167 hours of class in the Fall Semester. But really, I should rephrase before I go any further: assuming you’re taking a full load, you show up to all your classes, none of them get canceled for any reason, protest or not, and you pay full tuition, you’re paying for some 167 hours of class in the fall.

Now let’s look at tuition. This year, the cost of tuition is a whopping $33,494 for the year. The tuition for the fall semester is half of this, or $16,747. So if we divide that by 167, we get . $100.28. That’s a far cry from some of the more outrageous numbers that have gotten tossed around as of late. Don’t believe me? You can do the math yourself. But wait, there’s more.

The truth is, your tuition pays for a whole lot more than just class time, because there is a lot of stuff on campus besides classrooms and the professors who use them. Think about how many thousands of volumes in the library are there in part because of your tuition. Or how about all those journals? The prices go up every year, and the college keeps buying subscriptions. Maybe you could go to class most days without JSTOR on your side, but you might have some trouble doing your homework afterwards.

In fact, the next time you print a 40-page article in the library, remember that while that’s free for you, at Hamline, the University of Chicago and most other places, you would be paying 10 cents per page. I’ll let you do the calculations on that one.

But while printing might not be cheap at Hamline, rest assured, the entertainment is. Think of all the speakers who have come to Macalester in the last two years. Think of the new athletics facility – easily bound to be one of the best in the Midwest among division III colleges. Think all the student organizations we have and all the banquets they’ve held and all the pizza they’ve given you when you come to their meetings. Your tuition at work? You better believe it.

Granted, there is an endowment, and some of these facilities – the athletics facility, for instance – have been paid for largely with privately donated funds. But if you want to draw the line there, why not draw it at financial aid? If you’re not paying full tuition, you’re not even paying $100.28 per classroom hour; you’re paying much less, and getting a whole lot more than just that, too.

Like many other communities that we are members of (nation-states, for instance), money is a condition of membership to this one, and that money is used to do a lot more than just see to it that your own interests are met. Your tuition ensures for the present and future benefit of the community at large. If that means that sometime next year you will have the day off to think about a subject you’ve already considered enough, take it as a time to reflect about something else instead. Go to a soccer game, visit the library, listen to WMCN, play pool in our game room, visit the C-House, the CDC, the HRC, Winton Health Services or any other part of this institution that has benefited you and countless others in part because of your support.

If you do not think the school is spending your money well, ask yourself how well you are using what they have spent it on already. More than that, ask if everyone else is.