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TC Communique Issue 1, Number 3

Setting financial priorities at Teachers College, Columbia University

The Financial Priorities Committee (FPC) discussed a key component of the Teachers College mission at its October 22 meeting: educating future leaders. To fulfill that mission, TC needs to attract top students and to give them the best possible learning experience while they are here.

The issue was presented to the FPC because achieving that goal involves a financial commitment. Teachers College is looking for ways to manage its enrollment, in terms of quality, size, full-time to part-time student ratios, and master's to doctoral student ratios. All these factors will be influenced by the amount and distribution of financial aid.

Next FPC Meeting November 18

On November 18, the FPC is going to review proposals for distance learning, technology, and academic growth opportunities. On December 15, it will discuss proposals on student life and departmental initiatives.

The TC community can give feedback at any time to FPC committee members or by sending electronic mail to fpc@columbia.edu. There is also a newsgroup on Usenet (accessible via Pine, Netscape or other browsers), columbia.tc.fpc, where faculty, students and staff can discuss the strategic planning process at TC. Back issues of the TC Communique are posted on the TC Web site, http://www.tc.columbia.edu/~newsbureau/ and to the columbia.tc.fpc newsgroup.

New Committee Members

Five students have been appointed to the committee: Awo Atanda, Ifetayo Lawson, Erica Lewis, Julie Orio (who is also president of the Student Senate) and Tamara Webb. Marion Boultbee, Coordinator of International Students and Scholar Services and Professor Leslie Williams of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching also have joined the committee.

"Right-sizing" the College

William J. Baldwin, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, explained that the College is trying to decide what is the "right size" for student enrollment. The issue is a complicated one. The College gets 75 percent of its operating revenue and 88 percent of its education and general budget from student tuition. Big swings in student enrollment trigger financial problems.

In the past, enrollment at the College has been as low as 3,211, Baldwin said. That was in 1942-43. After World War II ended, enrollment hit an all time high of nearly 7,600 students in 1947-48. Between 1975 and 1980, enrollment dropped dramatically: from 6,107 to 4,700. Right now, enrollment is about 5,000 students. The College is working with a consultant to assist the President, the Dean, and the academic departments on how to best to look at the question of the "right size" of the College.

Leveraging Financial Aid

Teachers College can't make a difference in education by sheer numbers, said John B. Fisher, Executive Director for Student Recruitment, Admission, and Student Aid. "We can make a difference only by sending out into the field TC graduates with great ability, ideas, energy, and dedication," he said.

Financial aid can play an important role in helping the College achieve that goal, according to Fisher. Even though Teachers College is ranked number one and is often a student's first choice, we lose potential students because competing institutions can and do offer more financial aid, Fisher said.

He is also concerned about the students who do enroll. Too many students have to struggle to pay tuition and often take out loans, he said. Concern about repaying loans often prompts students to move through their academic programs rapidly, said Fisher. Still others have to work part-time or even full-time to make ends meet. The pressure of being an employee and a student can severely limit the amount of time students have to be active participants in the TC community outside the classroom, he said.

Fisher suggested that the College establish a $50 million endowment in support of scholarships. An endowment that size would make available just over $2.5 million each year. In turn, that money would be used to finance three new scholarship programs, which would provide aid for 245 students:

1. Doctoral Student Research Fellowships: Up to 45 fellowships would be funded under Fisher's proposal. The fellowships would cover tuition and provide a modest stipend for three years. The program would use the Spencer Research Fellowship as a model. It would allow doctoral students to collaborate with faculty, do dissertation research, and make real contributions to the field. The fellowships would be supported by an endowment of approximately $21 million.

2. Master's Student Professional Assistantships: Up to 80 pre-service students seeking careers in teaching, counseling, administration and other areas of education would receive $8,000 a year for two years. Fisher's proposal would open the scholarship to full-time or part-time students who submit program plans that would allow them to complete a Master's of Education in two years. The assistantships would be supported by an endowment of approximately $14 million.

3. Urban Teacher Corps Scholarships: Up to 120 student teachers would participate in the Urban Teacher Corps. The Corps would be modeled after other highly successful urban teacher programs at TC, including the Peace Corps Fellows program. The students would work in city schools while they complete their master's degrees. They would not receive a stipend from the College because they would be in salaried positions. However, Fisher proposed giving them $6,000 scholarships to help pay tuition. Students would also receive a $2,000 stipend to help support them during the summer before they begin teaching. During the summer, they would take courses at TC and go to orientation activities at their schools. The scholarships would supported by an endowment of approximately $15 million.

Meeting Other Critical Needs and Providing Student Aid

Such leveraging of financial aid would build a stronger intellectual community at the College and could be used to increase diversity, according to Fisher. No one at the meeting disagreed with his goals. But several people questioned whether $50 million should be earmarked to finance student aid.

Ron Nicholson, a member of the FPC and of the TC Board of Trustees, said, "Using $50 million to generate $2.5 million ties up a lot of money."

Professor Thomas Bailey, another FPC member, suggested an alternative: maybe the College could finance the cost of the scholarships directly for five or six years instead of tying up $50 million in the endowment.

If the College was going to raise $1 billion in the capital campaign, we could consider setting aside $50 million for scholarships, Trustee Nicholson said. But as it is, he added, the College must choose between doing this or fixing facilities.

Other Ways of Helping Students

"All of the numbers are scaleable up or down," Fisher said. But he remains concerned that "we're losing a lot of the students we want to have."

At the first in a series of open forums to discuss financial priorities, students welcomed proposals for more financial aid, but they said that the College also should address other issues.

Stephanie Lee, a master's student in philosophy and education, is a single mother with a three-year-old daughter who commutes to the College. She said that being a working mother and a student is exhausting. She asked College officials to consider providing housing for single parents as well as low-cost childcare.

Alison Rabil, a doctoral student in higher education, would like the College to provide more teaching assistantships. If the College can't provide them, she suggested that the College designate someone to help students apply for fellowships.

Administrators in the audience noted the student comments and concerns. In addition, Julie Orio, President of the TC Student Senate and a member of the FPC, said that the Senate would set up tables to solicit more input from students.

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