Deantini Talks McKinsey, Financial Aid, and Admissions

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Last Wednesday, Bwog got the chance to sit down with Deantini to talk about the McKinsey report, financial aid, admissions policy, and a bunch of other things College-related.

McKinsey Report: We first asked Deantini how he felt about Spec’s publishing of an executive summary of the McKinsey report. To our surprise, he said he was happy it had come out, and relieved it had only been leaked and publicized now, rather than in Fall 2011. The reason? Arts & Sciences (which encompasses the College, GSAS, GS, the School of the Arts, and SIPA) recently completed an administrative reorganization that was very different from what McKinsey advised last year.

While McKinsey’s recommendations would have seriously diminished the power and authority of the College dean—infamously, McKinsey suggested that the dean should be responsible only for “the care and feeding of undergraduates”—the latest changes to A&S actually confer more power upon the Dean of the College. Deantini now has a spot on the executive committee of the A&S, the three-member group (the other two members being the Dean of GSAS and Executive Vice President of A&S, Nicholas Dirks) that has the final say on the budget for all of A&S. Thanks to these reforms of A&S, Deantini declared, the College has never had more power than it does today.

Financial Aid: Deantini also spoke to us about the changes to the College’s financial aid—namely, that the responsibility for financial aid for College students is moving from A&S to the Provost’s office. Before the shift, the faculty of A&S had to decide how much financial aid to give out, keeping in mind that more money allocated from the (relatively small) A&S budget to financial aid meant less for academic concerns like keeping Core sections small or funding academic. Now that the Provost’s office is responsible for financial aid, the faculty will no longer be placed in such an awkward position.

Going forward, it will be the University’s responsibility to ensure that undergraduates are given enough financial aid. And financial aid should be a University responsibility, at least according to Deantini, because the College’s financial aid (or lack thereof) directly affects the prestige of the University as a whole. When the College eliminated loans back in 2008, he pointed out, it was Prezbo—not the Dean of the College, and not the Executive Vice President of A&S—who made the announcement, and it was Prezbo who spoke to the New York Times about the decision.

If the University says financial aid is a top priority, Deantini said, then the University should consider it as part of their overall budget, rather than making the faculty of A&S carve up their own tiny budget in order to pay for it. Of course, it’s possible that this could backfire: if financial aid isn’t actually the University’s top priority, it might shrink the financial aid budget in order to allocate more money to Manhattanville. But Deantini has faith in the central administration, particularly the Trustees of the University, who actually own the school. They have the final say on all the University’s actions and many of them, Deantini said, are fierce defenders of the College and the Core Curriculum. That said, Deantini also hopes to create an endowment for the Core Curriculum, in order to insulate it against any future budget cuts.

Admissions: Financial aid costs are always increasing, Deantini added, because tuition is always increasing. As tuition goes up, a higher percentage of students cannot pay the full price and consequently receive financial aid, forcing a smaller percentage of full-fare students to pay higher tuition prices to subsidize that financial aid. A few years ago, around 50% of students were on financial aid and 50% were not. Now it’s closer to 60-40; this has Deantini worried. He was concerned that having so many students subsidize the tuition of others would make it awkward for full-pay students and students on financial aid to socialize together as equals. He wanted to know whether we thought Columbia students discussed amongst themselves who’s on financial aid and who’s not, and if students on financial aid feel awkward about it. (We told him we didn’t think this was the case.)

The Columbia community—students, faculty, administrators—needs to come together to discuss these kinds of issues, Deantini suggested. Do we want a campus environment where 10% of the students pay extraordinarily high tuition and 90% of the students are on financial aid? Maybe yes, or maybe no, but the key is to talk openly about it rather than hemming and hawing. He added that we should also have a university-wide discussion on international admissions. Columbia has a global mission but is an American university—should we admit a higher percentage of international students, making it almost impossible for American students to be admitted? Is it fair to be need-blind toward American applicants, while trying to only admit international students who can pay full tuition? Deantini did not have specific answers to these questions; he only called for frank and candid dialogue on them.

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  1. Anonymous  

    I love Deantini. I hope they keep him as permanent Dean of CC.

  2. Anonymous  

    Socioeconomic inequality is the most prevalent social justice issue of our time

  3. um  

    "Financial aid costs are always increasing, Deantini added, because tuition is always increasing. As tuition goes up, a higher percentage of students cannot pay the full price and consequently receive financial aid, forcing a smaller percentage of full-fare students to pay higher tuition prices to subsidize that financial aid."

    This is categorically wrong. Students of every socioeconomic background receive finaid of some sort from the university; actual cost of attendance for undergraduates is far greater than the advertised tuition rates. With tuition at, say, $60,000, and actual cost of attendance somewhere around $75,000, the university spends $15,000 augmenting even the wealthiest students' tuition. By raising tuition, financial aid actually become more robust because the university loses less money from the wealthy and can use that money for those that need it. Raising tuition costs doesn't adversely affect less wealthy students at all. (For someone who can only pay 20k, the university will cover the remaining costs of the cost of attendance (75k) whether or not tuition is advertised as 50, 60, or 75k.)

    Or am I missing something?...

    • CC13  

      I pay 100% of the advertised tuition!

    • Anonymous  

      Are you are assuming that the cost of attendance remains the same?

      • um  

        No, but Deantini's comment (or Bwog's reporting) referred specifically to tuition, which is different than the actual cost of attendance. It's obvious how a rise in the cost of attendance would adversely affect the College's purse, but the same is not true for a rise in tuition. The two just aren't the same.

    • Anonymous  

      Do you guys actually believe that the cost of attending Columbia is $75,000? Think about how many hours of classes you take compared to the price of tuition.

      A large percentage of the sticker price of tuition is used to subsidize academic research. Students end up paying for a large portion of professor's salaries and graduate student's grants. How else can any university support such a large number of Ph. D candidates?

      Small liberal arts colleges and public universities also struggle with rising costs. Part of the cause is that professors can choose to switch to a large research university from a LAC, hence these professors won't accept much lower wages to forgo research.

      Who knows? My hunch is that I'm not getting my money's worth when I sit in a 100 person lecture listening to a professor read straight from the book. We need to ask how much the university pays for Lecturers-In-Discipline. We should be paying a premium on that amount, certainly not a multiple.

  4. The key to understanding the above thread

    For those like me who took a few moments to grasp it, is that the university currently subsidizes all students. Therefore the wealthy are not, technically, subsidizing the poor.

    BUT they *are* costing the university less, meaning the university has more cash, which the university then invests into the poor. So the objection is one of semantics.

  5. RR  

    "should we admit a higher percentage of international students, making it almost impossible for American students to be admitted?"

    Cutting international admissions? I'm all for it!

    But then, please, get rid of international faculty as well, cause we don't wanna make it ~nearly impossible~ for American scholars to teach here, right? Oh, and international donors, as well! And our global centers that hire international staff, maybe. Cause it's all about job creation.

  6. Drew  

    From what I've gathered about the consulting industry, most of the time the external consultants are just 'recommending' what the internal upper management wants done. It just looks better for the upper management if the measures look like they came from someone else. Not making any accusations about administrators' motives, but it's something to keep in the back of our minds.

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