Update on Education Costs at SMC

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community,

I thought it would be helpful to provide a basic summary of the College’s operating revenues and expenses in light of growing concerns over the cost and funding of higher education in California and the nation at large. This concern has been expressed in various ways, most recently by the Occupy movement and by members of the higher education community, including here at Saint Mary’s.  

As a private not-for-profit institution, Saint Mary’s College depends on income from student sources such as tuition, room and board to provide over 90% of its operating budget revenue. This is very different from most public institutions, which receive significant, although shrinking, direct funding from state and local taxpayers, while Saint Mary’s receives no such support. This is also different from a relatively small number of private institutions that have large endowments and large donor bases to fund a significant portion (up to 50%) of their operating budgets, while Saint Mary’s portion is less than 10% from these same revenue sources.

The operating expenses of Saint Mary’s College are similar to those of other institutions in that almost two-thirds of expenses are in support of faculty and staff salaries and benefits. The remaining third of expenses is focused on varied items such as the operation and maintenance of the College’s facilities, technological infrastructure, learning resources including the library, and student activities including intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports.

Almost all of the College’s operating expenses are subject to inflationary pressures, especially those related to salaries and benefits. Recent surveys have indicated that faculty and staff salary levels are roughly 5% behind those paid at comparable institutions, which places further pressure on the operating expenses of the College.

Since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, the College has undertaken significant efforts to diversify its operating revenues, decrease its operating expenses and increase its support of student financial aid, while continuing to support and even enhance the student learning experience. These efforts have included investment in expanded fundraising capabilities, a decrease in the number of staff positions and the expanded use of technology for transactional purposes, such as registration and billing.    

The College and its Budget Committee and Board of Trustees remain focused on keeping a Saint Mary’s education affordable without diminishing its quality. This is a challenging task in light of the negative impact of the credit crisis, recession and slow economic recovery. It is also a task that can benefit from dialogue, input and support from all members of the College community. 

I welcome your suggestions on ways that we can strengthen current efforts to keep a Saint Mary’s education affordable. Feel free to forward them to me at pmichell@stmarys-ca.edu. The input received will be shared with the Budget Committee and Board of Trustees to inform their decision making processes.

Thank you in advance for your input and continued support of Saint Mary’s College.


Peter A. Michell
Vice President for Finance