Our Money, Their Secrets
Students continue to pay more for a college education, but know less about the financing of their university.
This is the cover story for Ball State University’s student-produced magazine, Ball Bearings. You can read the entire coverage here.
Students filed into the Student Center Forum Room one after the other. Hushed conversation hung in the air as the Board of Trustees found their seats and prepared for the 3 p.m. meeting to begin. Many of the board members examined the larger than usual crowd of students and faculty.
The sudden resignation of President Ferguson after only 541 days in office prompted many Ball State University students to openly express their disapproval of the decision. Not because he was gone, but because they were not told why he was gone.
Students would be paying for the termination of his contract, as well as the search for a new president. They wanted answers, not political, PR-driven explanations.
Carli Hendershot, a political science major and the organizer of the student sit-in on January 29, made the opening remarks. She requested that the board put aside their politics and be open and transparent with the students. Like many other students and faculty members who had voiced their opinions after the seemingly quick and secretive decision, she demanded answers.
But she and the other students didn’t get them.
Students are still left to wonder why Ferguson resigned, why the decision was secret, and why the reputation of Ball State was put on the line. But students deserve answers to other issues with transparency on this campus that have nothing to do with Ferguson.
How much money Ball State receives, the source of that money, and how different departments of the university are funded are all areas that directly affect students at Ball State.
Yet these sectors of funding are also areas that students typically don’t know the numbers for. Instead of concrete and specific answers, students are often given generalizations or vague explanations about how their university is financed.
States and Students Fund Universities
Typically, the federal government provides financial aid to individual students, rather than institutions, according to a 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts analysis. State funding, on the other hand, pays for the operations of public colleges and universities.
Therefore, states are one of the biggest providers for higher education. But in 2013, students provided the same amount of money through tuition and fees as state governments did for public colleges and universities across the United States. State funding, and student tuition and fees, are the largest contributors to revenue for most public colleges and universities.
That same year, public colleges and universities in Indiana received more funding through student tuition and fees than any other source – including federal, state, and local revenue, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. This means Indiana colleges rely on tuition and fees more than any other revenue source in order to function.
Not all states are like this, but most are.
Funding from the state largely has to do with state policies. For example, in Wyoming, student tuition and fees was one of the smallest contributors to funding in 2013, while revenue from the state was the largest. The Wyoming constitution states that public institutions should be as close to free as they can be, and because of that, those schools receive more funding from the state and charge less in tuition and fees.
State funding has decreased across the nation, largely because of the economic recession that began in 2007 and ended in 2009. Because of this decrease in funding, tuition has increased nationally.
“The states have disinvested in higher education. That’s the big issue,” said Thomas Harnisch, the director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “More students want to get into higher education, but the states just haven’t kept up their end of the funding.”
Thomas said that states are able to cut funding for higher education because colleges and universities can make up for lost funding by charging more in tuition. It’s easier for states to cut higher education funding because they can balance their budgets without raising taxes.
The amount of funding that states contribute to public colleges and universities for each full-time student has decreased by several thousand dollars in the last few decades. In 1987, states contributed $8,497 per full-time student. In 2012, that number was $5,906, according to a 2014 report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The decrease in funding from states shifts the cost to students and families in the form of increased tuition and fees. The higher price of college may lead to more student debt for those who cannot afford tuition without taking out student loans.
Although students are paying more, the amount that is spent per student at public colleges and universities has been relatively flat over the last decade, Thomas said. A January 2016 Delta Cost Project report confirms this. The report found that spending per student at a public four-year institution only increased around 2-3 percent between 2012 and 2013 – the largest increase since 2008.
Colleges are not spending more per student, and states are contributing less per student. But students often offset the cost and continue to pay more than the state does.
Students at Ball State, like other public colleges and universities across the nation, pay for classes, specific programs and courses, and numerous fees each semester. This results in more than $7,000 in tuition and fees for in-state students per academic year. And more than $23,000 for out-of-state students, according to the university’s website.
The most recent audit report of Ball State in 2014 also demonstrates the trend of students providing more money than the state. Student tuition, fees, and scholarship allowances made up 31 percent of the total revenue for Ball State, which is slightly more than the 30 percent that came from the state of Indiana.
Public universities and colleges can offset part of the money cut by the state, but rarely can they make up the total amount, Thomas said. Universities must often make their own cuts as well, along with raising the price of tuition and fees.
In 2016, the state of Indiana will appropriate more than $146.7 million to Ball State University – a decrease of $14.5 million in just one year. Between 2014 and 2015, the state gave Ball State $161.2 million.
The money appropriated to Ball State is decided by the Indiana ways and means committee and is dispersed by the budget committee when the state decides on the biennial budget. The budget committee includes five members – one Republican and one Democrat from both houses, and the director of the budget agency. The budget committee holds open hearings while the budget is being decided so different agencies can outline their requests.
Representative Terry Goodin, a member of the budget committee, said that there is a lot of discussion and disagreement regarding the allocation of funds.
State appropriations for universities are heavily debated while the House is in session. University presidents and other figureheads often attend the sessions to present on their budget requests in attempt to get as much funding as they can. Senator Luke Kenley, a member of the budget committee, said more funding is allocated based on how the university has used funds in the past along with the success rates universities had implementing previous programs.
The funding is also partially decided based on a performance funding formula created by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, Rep. Goodin said. The formula for funding changes each budget cycle. Sen. Kenley said appropriations are also decided based on the budget that has been given to the university in the past, the number of students that attend the university, and the type of university.
Ball State received more money for the implementation of the entrepreneurial learning program that began in 2015 under Ferguson, Sen. Kenley said. With three presidents in three years, and a search for a new one, it’s likely that future state appropriations will take a closer look at the way Ball State is using its money before giving more.
Once universities receive money from the state, they are required to submit a reconciliation report once a month showing a line-item budget on how the money was spent.
In 2017, state funding for Ball State will be $152.6 million.
Tuition of a Typical Undergraduate
Ball State charges undergraduate full-time, in-state students a flat rate tuition fee of $3,771 and around another $1,000 in fees each semester. Out-of-state students are charged a flat rate of $11,530 in tuition, as long as they take at least one main campus course.
Additionally, there are different fees for different programs, which can be a little over $100 to several hundred dollars. For example, if a student takes seven or more credit hours in the architecture department, that fee will be $550. Students may also be charged for taking certain courses. Music courses, for example, charge an extra $11 per credit hour. Glass courses charge an extra $110 per credit hour.
These expenses are strictly tuition and fees for the 2015-2016 academic year. The thousands of dollars listed don’t take into account the thousands more students will pay for room and board and other living expenses, which are costly for both in-state and out-of-state students.
Out-of-state students typically pay more in tuition than in-state students do because in-state students and their parents have been paying taxes in the state, while out-of-state students haven’t.
Thomas said that many institutions have resorted to recruiting more out-of-state students in order to increase their revenue, because of the significantly higher amount out-of-state students typically pay.
Around 13 percent of Ball State’s students are out-of-state.
How Ball State Uses its Money
We know Ball State has departments funded entirely through student fees, and others funded through a general fund. More than 30 different revenue sources contribute to the general fund, such as state money and student tuition and fees. Graduation fees, for example, made up $100,000 of the general fund in 2016. Course fees made up more than $3.2 million.
The general fund is then used to run around 150 areas of the university, such as the office of the president, the board of trustees, Pruis Hall, the Career Center, and staff benefits.
The most recent audit report of Ball State does not state the total amount in the general fund.
The report mentions the general fund one time, when explaining that one percent of the general fund is reserved for unforeseen circumstances, like weather.
We know what one percent of the fund is: $3.4 million.
Therefore, in 2014, the general fund was around $337 million. In 2016, the fund is $345.1 million.
This $345 million doesn’t fund everything. Some departments are not funded through the general fund, such as the Student Health Center, which is sustained through the health fee students pay each semester.
A public records request response stated the health center is completely funded through student fees. When a request for a list of departments also funded entirely through student fees was placed, the Budget Office representatives said they were unable to provide a list of departments funded entirely through student fees.
Therefore, it’s implied that the student health center is the only area of the university completely funded by a single student fee. Students can infer that most departments are funded through a combination of revenues, such as student tuition, fees, donations, and state money. But students shouldn’t have to guess.
The most recent audit report states that 66 percent of Ball State’s money is spent on salaries, 24 percent on operating expenses, and 1 percent on student aid payments.
It isn’t surprising that a majority of money is spent on salaries, considering former President Ferguson was paid $75,000 just to take a two month sabbatical and made more than $450,000 a year prior to his resignation.
Operating expenses aren’t specifically listed in the report. However, it says that operating expenses are all costs necessary to fulfill the primary purposes of the university. “Other” supplies and expenses include basic office supplies, insurance, postage, software, and travel expenses, to name a few.
Around $6.7 million was spent on student services between 2013 and 2014, according to the Functional Expenses listed in the report. These services most likely include the health center, counseling center and other services at the university that students have free access to.
Another $97.1 million was spent on instruction, and $39.4 million on institutional support. The report is not specific as to what exactly these areas are. Although many things can be inferred, such as instruction being instructor salaries, not all expenses are clear.
The report is full of vague explanations that require carefully analyzing the 85 page document to fully understand it. The academic jargon in the report is not reader-friendly, which only makes the financing of Ball State seem less transparent and more secretive.
The report doesn’t state the amount of money students contribute to other free student services such as Friday Night Filmworks hosted by University Program Board (UPB), Late Nite, and athletic events, like football games.
Although these services feel free, they aren’t. Fees for these areas of the university aren’t listed in student tuition and fees specifically, but students still pay for them.
The student services fee, which cost students $647 each semester between 2014 and 2016, contributes more than $121,000 toward UPB, which then hosts events like Friday Night Filmworks. It also contributes more than $349,000 to Late Nite, and more than $11.4 million toward intercollegiate athletics. The student services fee is the biggest source of revenue for athletics – $10.4 million more than ticket sales, corporate sales, and concession sales combined.
Overall, student money accounted for 55 percent of the total funding for intercollegiate athletics for the 2014-2015 academic year.
Students contribute more to the budget for intercollegiate athletics than the funding given to the health and counseling centers combined – both areas students often voice complaints about.
A Service Funded through the General Fund
Squeezed into the corner of the room, as physically close to the wall as he could be, Andrew Arthur scrolled through Facebook for what seemed like the hundredth time. He wanted to be anywhere but here – in the crowded lobby of Meridian Health Services in Muncie.
He mechanically refreshed the screen. His anxiety growing worse the longer he waited. It had been almost two hours, and he still hadn’t had his intake done to be scheduled with a new therapist.
Andrew, a senior at Ball State, has anxiety and depression, along with stress from his two majors: architecture and Spanish. A lot of things cause his anxiety to flare up, but one thing in particular is the lobby of Meridian.
“It feels like you’re going into a shark tank,” Andrew said.
This morning while he waited, people shouted at one another across the room. They encroached on his personal space and his sense of security. Large crowds in a small space is a major trigger for his anxiety. He had had enough – but he couldn’t leave.
After returning for the Fall 2015 semester, Andrew was told his therapist had retired, and he would have to go through intake again – a tedious process that required arriving at 8 a.m. just to ensure he would be seen.
He tried the Ball State Counseling Center before putting himself in this situation, though.
He had only ever heard bad things about the counseling center, but he needed his medication changed. He needed help with his anxiety and depression. He needed to get an appointment as soon as possible.
It was here that he was met with a road block on his quest for counseling. Unless he had an emergency, he wouldn’t be seen at BSU for around a month. He couldn’t wait a month, even if his situation wasn’t considered an emergency.
He settled for Meridian Health Services, even though the Ball State Counseling Center is free.
“It’s not built to be an easy process,” Andrew said. “Everything’s pushing against you.”
Like Andrew, many students have expressed concern over the appointment wait time at the Ball State Counseling Center. This has left many students wondering why it is difficult to receive important health services that are free and assumed to be readily available.
For the 2014-2015 academic year, more than 1,600 students used the counseling center, many of whom probably had more than one counseling appointment.
The website for the counseling center has conflicting information on the average number of appointments, which is either four or five. It also has conflicting information on whether or not the twelve free sessions are for calendar year or academic year. However, these free sessions still amount to better than what some Indiana colleges offer.
In 2015, the counseling center received around $1.4 million from that year’s $339.9 million general fund. That is less than one percent.
A Service Funded Entirely by Students
The Ball State Student Health Center is funded entirely through the student health fee, which was $76 per semester for the 2015-2016 academic year. The health center is then free for students to use. No limit exists on the number of appointments students are allowed, and students are not charged additional money unless they need a test done or require a prescription.
Like the counseling center, it’s not uncommon to hear students voice complaints about the health center – especially about the wait time.
For Mackenzie Robinson, a sophomore at Ball State, the prolonged wait she endured caused her a lot of physical pain. She asked to be seen as soon as possible because of her discomfort.
A visit Mackenzie expected to take two hours at the most ended up taking more than three. She was late to class, she was annoyed, and she was furious about her wait. But there was nothing she could have done to change the situation.
Students who visit the health center can expect to block off a few hours for the appointment. Like Mackenzie, most students say the wait is usually longer than expected before they are seen by a nurse or doctor.
With more than 29 employees, including practitioners and support staff, the health center sees around 140 students each day, according to Lisa Kennedy, a practice administrator at the health center. For the 2014-2015 academic year, there were more than 23,000 visits to the health center. Only five physicians are on staff, along with five nurse practitioners – one of whom works only one day a week.
The large number of students that visit each day and only a fraction of that number in employees means that a wait is to be expected.
The health center received more than $2.2 million for the 2015-2016 academic year, and the same amount for the 2014-2015 academic year. Completely funded by students, the health center receives more money than counseling center does through the general fund.
Editorial Note: Students Deserve Transparency
Like Andrew, who needed counseling services through Ball State but couldn’t get them, or Mackenzie, who spent three hours at the health center for a minor problem, students are paying for services and they expect them to be available and beneficial. It is not feasible that the university allocates extensive amounts of money to these services. But student physical and mental health are arguably more important than other areas that receive more funding, like athletic events that have low student turnout.
Tuition rises as state funding declines. Student tuition and fees make up the bulk of revenue for Ball State, as it does for other public colleges and universities across the country. Because of that, the financing of Ball State should be available to students in an understandable and specific format.
Ball State spends its money to keep the university functioning, to pay salaries, and to provide services to students. The revenues and expenditures are available in the annual audit report, but the report is full of jargon and is not always easily understood. If students want to know specifics, their best bet is to file a public records request and hope that it is fulfilled.
Although Ball State’s website has an entire page dedicated to financial transparency, it still doesn’t contain a line item budget about how money is spent, and whose money goes where.
Rather it contains documents about university goals, presentations that have been given to the legislative committees that give Ball State money, staff salaries, and budget requests.
That is not true financial transparency.
Ball State students made it known that they wanted more transparency regarding Ferguson’s resignation. But many might not realize the lack of transparency occurring elsewhere at the university, which also deserves their attention.
Students alone are the ones who must live with the debt created by taking out loans to afford increased tuition and fees. They should not be kept in the dark about how Ball State uses that money.
Is college worth it? For the past six months, Ball Bearings Magazine has investigated that question from all angles. Although we have some answers, we still don’t have them all, raising even more questions about the university’s transparency.
On Wednesday, April 13 at 7 p.m., Editor-in-Chief Miranda Carney sits down with Acting President Terry King and Vice President for Business Affairs Bernard Hannon to answer the questions you have about your money.
Everyone is welcome and can RSVP to the event. You can submit your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #MyMoneyBSU. Selected questions will be used as part of the event.
It’s our money. It matters.