Why does SMU’s tuition cost as much as an Ivy League’s?

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Princeton University is ranked the number one university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. SMU is ranked 58. Princeton, with an acceptance rate of 7.41 percent, is more difficult to get into than SMU, with an acceptance rate of 50.7 percent.

Yet, it costs more to attend SMU than Princeton. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the tuition (excluding room and board and other fees) at SMU adds up to $45,940 versus $41,820 at Princeton.

SMU’s tuition is also higher than, or nearly as high as, most other Ivy League schools or schools ranked higher in the nation, including Harvard and Yale.

SMU’s annual undergraduate tuition, including housing and other fees, has increased by 87.35% in the last 10 years, from $34,593 to $60,585.

So why, in a fairly low-cost-of-living city like Dallas, is Southern Methodist University so expensive? Some students wonder if they are getting their money’s worth.

Hasan Soleja, a senior finance major, is a Founders Scholar and his tuition is covered by the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Soleja said that the high price tag is worth it if you are in a program that will lead to a high-paying job. If it doesn’t, it may become harder to justify.

“I think there is a lot of variation within SMU,” said Soleja. “Depending on what school you go to and degree you get.”

Tuition at SMU, as at other colleges and universities, supports many parts of the University’s budget.

Financial aid, compensation for faculty and staff, utilities, debt service, and facilities and grounds maintenance are the major categories funded from tuition as well as other revenue sources.

“SMU believes in funding attractive financial packages for our students,” said Chris Regis, the vice president for business and finance at SMU. “Attracting world-class faculty and maintaining the campus with the highest of standards”

All of these reasons are factored into SMU’s tuition dollar amount. Regis says this attracts top students who find themselves with incredible opportunities not only while on campus but after they graduate as well.

“I think you will agree that attending SMU is well worth the price,” said Regis.

But some students are still frustrated with the systems at SMU.

Roma Kakar, a junior English major, has been frustrated with the Financial Aid Office. She has been trying to get help since January of this year, but her issues still have not been addressed.

“My sister and I both go here and her stuff with financial aid is solved,” said Kakar. “But mine is not because apparently some students go under verification, and it is taking forever.”

Kakar explains why it was really awkward when she wanted to talk to someone at the Financial Aid Office. She felt uncomfortable talking about her personal issues in front of the line of people waiting behind her.

“The Financial Aid Office should be like advising,” said Kakar. “Where I can go into a room and talk about the issues I am facing.”

Tuition and fees account for about two-thirds of the cost of an SMU education; the remainder is covered by gifts, endowments and other annual revenues.

“In particularly Cox, I would definitely say it adds up to $60,000 of value a year,” said Soleja. “Just in terms of the networking and the type of people you are going to meet and the job opportunities you are going to have.”

Soleja continues to talk about how SMU’s high tuition could be a big financial burden for a lot of people and is still unsure why it costs more than most Ivy Leagues.

“Even though I did say the education is worth $60,000, I think about the position my family and I were in at the time when I was coming to SMU,” said Soleja. “I wouldn’t haven’t chosen to go here if my tuition wasn’t paid for.”

A hallmark of SMU education is the small classes. The student/faculty ratio is 11-to-1, and about 3 out of 4 classes have 30 students or fewer.

“Speaking from a financial point of view, SMU definitely adds $60,000 worth of present value,” said Soleja. “But, if you are looking towards graduate school or medical school, it doesn’t make sense to pile up debt just for your undergraduate degree.”

According to Regis, one of SMU’s main goals is raising money for student scholarships. As part of The Second Century Campaign, SMU has raised funds for more than 550 new endowed scholarships. SMU students graduate with less debt on average than many of their peers at other national universities, including American, Marquette, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Lehigh. Fewer than 40 percent of SMU undergraduates who earned degrees in 2012-13 had student loans, with an average debt of $29,829.

SMU has more than $98 million in scholarships and grants available to support students every year. The total is from all SMU institutional sources including financial aid, athletics and the University’s schools.

“SMU undergraduates also have the opportunity to participate in research projects,” said Regis. “Within the past year, students have received $3,000 stipends to work as undergraduate research assistants in connection with professors’ research in engineering, anthropology, geology and psychology.”

It’s still not clear why SMU’s tuition has almost doubled in the past 10 years. To obtain an appointment with anyone in the Administration’s office at SMU to talk about this topic is fairly difficult.

Multiple people including the treasurer and chief investment officer, the vice president for development and external affairs, and the president, were reached for comment with no reply. All quotes and information from Regis were gathered over email.

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