Undergraduate tuition and fees for Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are projected to reach an all-time high of $62,000 for the 2019-2020 academic year, Dean of Columbia College James Valentini announced at a recent Arts and Sciences faculty meeting. This latest price hike will make Columbia the most expensive undergraduate school in the nation.
Tuition—which do not represent full cost of attendance—has increased by over 55 percent since 2009, with a 3.4 percent increase in the past year. Increases in tuition are largely what cover the growing expenses of individual schools, such as faculty salaries and research, and sustain the University’s overall operational budget—both of which have faced increased pressures from budgetary shortages in recent years. Almost a quarter of the operational budget of the University was funded through tuition in 2018.
Both CC and SEAS have a need-blind, full-need financial aid policy for domestic students, though not for international students. During the 2018-2019 school year, 46 and 47 percent of total tuition costs for all undergraduate students were returned in the form of aid at CC and SEAS, respectively, according to data from the Office of the Provost. These tuition costs do not include the School of General Studies, which differs in cost as well as aid policy—the school does not maintain a need-blind, full-need policy. Columbia also does not award merit-based or athletic scholarships.
Increases in tuition have imposed a significant cost on Columbia College, especially as the school seeks to foster socioeconomic diversity through its need-blind policy. Roughly 50 percent of students attending Columbia College currently receive need-blind financial aid, while the other half receives no aid—a number which has increased 10 percent since 1987, when approximately 60 percent of students received aid from the college.
In comparison, university tuitions and fees among some of Columbia’s peer institutions are drastically lower, such as that of Princeton and Harvard, whose 2019-20 tuitions are $51,870 and $51,925, respectively. Columbia tuition and fees are also 5.7 percent higher than that of Brown’s, which has the second highest tuition among the Ivy League.
A contributing factor to this disparity is Columbia’s endowment, which is the fourth smallest of all Ivy League schools and showed the lowest rate of return of any Ivy during the 2018 fiscal year. Only returns from the endowment are spent each year and are used to fund financial aid, fellowships, research, departments, among other factors.
In response to questions regarding the College’s ability to sustain its commitment to socioeconomic diversity, given the steadily rising tuition rates, a University spokesperson pointed to its need-blind admissions policies, as well as a three percent increase in students receiving Pell Grants between the class of 2013 and 2022. However, Pell Grants are provided through government funds, not University finances.
“We take pride in—and are committed to sustaining—this socioeconomic diversity and the contributions it makes to undergraduate education at Columbia. The cornerstones of this effort are need-blind admissions—meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, the replacement of loans with grants, and expenditure of more than $122 million this past year on grants to undergraduates,” the spokesperson wrote.
The current tuition for the 2019-2020 school year also surpasses the University’s previous predictions—in 2016, University administrators told Spectator that tuition would likely reach $60,000 by 2020, showing that fees have grown at a marginally faster rate than predicted. The University declined to comment on this discrepancy.
Specific numbers for cost of attendance at CC and SEAS, including room and board and estimated personal expenses, will be released later this summer.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the need-blind, full-need financial aid policy for CC and SEAS does not include undocumented students. Spectator regrets this error.