College Pete

Who’s Paying For All Those Beautiful New Buildings We Saw?

Who’s Paying For All Those Beautiful New Buildings We Saw?

I was quite literally BLOWN AWAY by Tufts’ Campus. So was Jill.  When we were students there (20 million years ago), the performing arts ‘complex’ included one small auditorium (that doubled as our Classics and art history classroom) and a ‘dance studio’ fashioned from a curtain that divided the ‘gym’,  that consisted pretty much of one nasty mat and a parque floor with a weight bench and a stationary bicycle.  Ok, maybe I’m exagerating a little, but the truth is that in the time since we graduated, Tufts has:

– added a state-of-the-art language center;
– built not one, but two new dorms (green, no less);
– has redone the library TWICE;
– has completely redesigned the ‘athletic’ facilities – which are now much nicer than my tennis club;
– has added TWO admissions centers (a welcoming center and an administrative office complex);
– redone both of the main dining halls;
– added a legitimate performing arts AND a fine arts centers with multiple theaters, studios and galleries;  
– and more was on the way (new construction can be spotted throughout campus).

It looks great; it shows great on the tour — and as an alum – I’m proud.  Really and truly. Hard not to be.  BUT as a higher ed consultant, it also explains a lot: like the barrage of dinner time calls from Tufts Telefund, seeking our annual gift (more than annually, for one thing;  and for another, the dramatic rise in college tuition everywhere.  In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 per year for tuition; by 2009, 224 were above that mark!  To be fair, Tufts is definitely not the only school we saw, nor the only one we recommend, that has spent the past couple of decades (particularly the last decade) on a building (read: spending) spree. According to an Op-Ed published in the NY Times last month, the debt taken on by colleges has risen a whopping 88% since 2001, to $307 billion!  Seems like students are not the only ones taking on too much debt.  

So, what does this mean for you?  Well, for starters: if they build it, they need you to come and pay for it.     A point confirmed by Denny Paredes, Tufts Associate Director of Admissions and South Florida reader, who confided that the former President of the school would often visit him in the admissions office, and when the Arts Complex was completed, he told him this, “I have my arts facility, now fill it for me”.  This is a clear example of what we call a unique hook or an extraordinary contribution that can be leveraged to create an advantage for an applicant.  

The point I’m making is that the college admissions process is not a one-way street. The competition for students is fierce, as fierce in many cases as the competition among students to stand out.  Most students possess more potential ‘value’ to a school than they realize.  If your student  learns how to identify, develop and to present his unique ‘value’ properly, he will improve his chances of acceptance and yours of paying wholesale for it.  Trust me, if a college wants/needs your child bad enough, and has money to give, they are more apt to make it affordable for you to choose them.     

One other point I’d like to make here:  While I recognize that families face different budgetary constraints, and that in today’s information-rich world, there are many different avenues for gathering data about a college, there is often no substitute for a visit.  Not only does it give you the flavor of a campus and let your student make a personal connection, it can help you ferret out potential sources of leverage you can use later. Having said that, when you visit can most definitely influence your perception — which is why we always recommend that you try to take your campus tours when school is in session.  We felt this particularly strongly at Brandeis, which was the last stop on our tour, and I’ll explain why in my next article.  

And now, after a week in Boston visiting colleges, it’s time for some R&R.  In fact, I’m writing this from an undisclosed Massachusetts location, resting, relaxing, and recharging – anticipating a busy admissions season in the year ahead.  I’m back in the office next week and ready to share all of the information that we garnered on the road at my workshop on Tuesday, July 24th in Miami.  If you have a college-bound student at home, it’s time to start the conversation.  Join us in Miami to learn how to approach the college process with an integrated funding and admissions strategy that will help you give your child the type of education they want, at a discounted price you can afford.

Dedicated to Making Your Child’s College Dreams AFFORDABLE,


p.s. Before Tufts, we were at Boston College in Chestnut Hill and Union College in Schenectady, NY.  To review our meeting at Union, click here; for Boston College, check out this link.

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