Winsor Tuition Dollars

By Elizabeth Hiss

Tuition, or the annual sum students must contribute to fund a Winsor education, is a term that floats around the hallways and homerooms of the school. Students know the number value, $37,100, and often discuss this value when the number grows every year, but there is uncertainty about where these mysterious tuition funds go. When a classroom is void of staplers or tissue boxes, students toss out the question, “where are our tuition dollars going?” Or when the heating system emits ominous noises, students ask, “couldn’t our tuition be used to fix these?”
Tuition, however, is only one piece of the complicated budget puzzle that the Winsor Board of Directors and Business Office take on every year to plan and account for all aspects of running the school and crafting our educational experience. The Panel out answers from Director Ms. Stettler and Chief Financial Officer Mr. Bernasco to give a clearer picture of the complex issue that is the Winsor budget. The most recent data available is from 2011, when the total of Winsor’s expenses were about $16.8 million.
The most common misconception regarding tuition is that its value is equivalent to the cost of educating a Winsor student. However, the tuition value of $37,100 represents only about 74% of the total cost expended on each student. This “tuition shortfall” is covered by Winsor’s other ways of earning money: annual giving donations and endowment revenue. The Panel assembled data showing the breakdown of some of the many elements that factor into the cost of our education including teacher compensation, facilities, building maintenance, and food.
“Endowment” is another term shrouded in uncertainty at the school. Students have a general idea of this huge sum of money that ensures the financial protection of the school, but what is its function exactly? Simply put, an endowment is the total sum of all the assets and investments of an institution, including buildings and land. As of 2011, Winsor’s endowment was about $60 million, and revenue earned from the endowment accounts for about 11% of the school’s operating budget. None of the actual endowment funds are spent, however, the school uses the interest revenue as a part of the budget.
All of the budget components and the way they are organized reflect Winsor’s priorities as a school.  A substantial priority for the school is to maintain competitive teacher salaries to “attract and retain the most talented faculty,” explained Ms. Stettler. Winsor teachers’ earnings are in the top 10% of Winsor’s peer independent schools. This fact was not always the case until a concerted fundraising capital campaign effort which concluded in 2004 brought teacher salaries to where they are today.
While Winsor’s tuition has increased every year to account for rising costs in the market, the school has maintained a greater commitment to financial aid than have many other schools, according to data from our peer institutions. Winsor commits 18% of the budget to financial aid for students, a fact that Ms. Stettler maintains is of paramount importance to keep attracting the most competitive students regardless of their financial situations. Still, Ms. Stettler explains that tuition is “really expensive,” and it is always difficult to have to raise tuition to keep up with the rising costs of education. “The costs of private school education and college education have risen substantially in recent years, and so the school does not raise tuition capriciously,” she added.
The demands and quandaries the budget presents increase every year, and these demands were particularly evident in the 2008- 2009 recession when many schools lost many of their endowment funds. Harvard University, for example, lost about 30% of its endowment, with losses totaling about $10 billion, due to the unstable investments the school was making. Winsor, however, had minimal losses and weathered the recession storm well due to the conservative investment strategy of the Board.
The one area where Ms. Stettler acknowledges Winsor has fallen behind other independent schools is our facilities. “The school is way below average for square feet per student, especially for girls’ schools in the nation,” said Ms. Stettler. Part of the motivation for the new building project is to bring Winsor’s buildings up to par with the innovations in curriculum and programming the school has seen. The Panel will be continuing the discussion and examination of the financial demands of the new building in the second part of this series, coming in February.
This examination of Winsor’s budget only scratches the surface of the complex topic of a school’s financial considerations, but we hope that presenting this information about our school and our peer schools will serve to promote informed discourse about these important financial issues of our school.