I cannot help but notice that our college is at a crossroads: do we continue to invest in science, technology, engineering and math subjects and let the traditionally “liberal arts” subjects suffer? The seemingly obvious answer is that we need both, but reaching this end will not be easy.
Geneseo has done a wonderful job over the past decade investing in STEM departments. This is evident to anyone who enters a classroom in the Integrated Science Center. The rooms are modern and highly conducive to learning. The building is a result of a $53 million construction project that was completed 10 years ago. More recently, the $23 million Bailey Hall was completed to hold the anthropology, geography, psychology and sociology departments—social sciences that walk the line between STEM and non-STEM.
Based on these investments alone, it’s no surprise that STEM departments appear to be growing at a faster rate than non-STEM departments. A perfect example on the other end is the communication department. The department is currently housed in Blake B—one of the most rundown, decrepit buildings on our campus. The history department also uses horribly outdated facilities; the department is in the basement of Sturges Hall. Both buildings look and feel like underfunded high schools without proper temperature control systems.
If this trend of putting non-STEM subjects in Cold War-era buildings continues, the long-term effects on Geneseo will be disastrous. The top students interested in liberal arts subjects will start going to schools with better facilities, opportunities and resources that offer them good scholarships. As a result, liberal arts departments will start to disappear—much like the studio art department did a few years ago. Geneseo could gain a reputation as a solid STEM school, while its reputation as the most prestigious small State University of New York school disappears.
The solution to this problem may not be popular among students: raise tuition to generate the revenue needed to build modern facilities. SUNY tuition is amongst the lowest in the country. This gives students from a large range of backgrounds access to higher education. Tuition at Geneseo was $6,470 for the 2015-16 academic year; I propose raising this by one-third to about $8,700.
It may look like this proposed tuition hike would disenfranchise a large population of students. Offering more merit and need-based scholarships as part of an admissions package would alleviate this issue. Incoming freshmen with high grade point averages and standardized test scores could be awarded scholarships that would functionally act as discounts on tuition.
Additionally, economically and socially disenfranchised students could be given scholarships based upon obstacles they faced on their path to college. Students who do not meet these criteria would pay the “sticker price” of $8,700—still $700 less than the national in-state tuition average. The current endowed scholarships would still be awarded, as they have a negligible effect on gross tuition revenue.
Based on the class of 2019, if 74 percent of incoming students paid the new “sticker price,” the remaining students could—in theory—receive free tuition and gross tuition revenue would remain the same. More realistically, if the remaining students paid half-tuition—less than the current tuition price—gross tuition revenue would go up 17 percent. That money could be invested in professors, facilities, research grants, student travel to academic conferences and so much more—both STEM and non-STEM departments would benefit immensely. This is a vastly oversimplification of scholarship distribution, but the end revenue total is representative of what we could expect under this system.
If Geneseo does not invest in itself, the academic ceiling for our college becomes frighteningly low. In order to maintain our high potential as students—and attract the next generation of gifted students—we need to change our tuition model to generate the revenue needed to compete with the country’s top liberal arts colleges.