Unraveling the Tuition Mystery

Posted more than a year ago.

On Tuesday I opened the gates on a challenging two-part question with “Why did OC invest so much (or at all) in ________?” Today, I want to address one possible Part 2 of said question:

“…when tuition is high and could be used on other things?”

And let me rip the most painful Band-Aid off right away: yes, I agree, Oklahoma Christian University is expensive. You read that right. I’m not saying the financial cost of the OC experience is priced unfairly or luxury taxed. I’m not saying that it’s too high for the existing academic marketplace. I’m not saying it’s unachievable for the families who want to be a part of this community. And I’m not saying my time at OC wasn’t worth every penny. But pursuing an education at Oklahoma Christian is, most definitely, expensive.

If you’re enrolled at OC now, if you’re considering OC for the future, or if you’re paying loans for your past experiences at OC, you’ve almost certainly encountered the challenge that comes with financing your Eaglehood. I want you to know that I’m not naïve to that challenge (my family wrestles with an OC student loan every month) and neither is our administration. It takes commitment and sacrifice to be here, and I’m personally overjoyed and incredibly grateful that you are, will, or have made the great effort to make OC your home.

And I absolutely want that home to be “worth it” to you.

We don’t typically couch our conversations about the University in terms of how “expensive” it is. There are obvious reasons why. However, I’d like to peel back the curtain on one of my personal reasons—give you a taste of my emotion on the matter. Stay with me here (and remember my opinions are very much alive in these posts):

You see, we have a 64-year history of bending over backwards to keep costs down and scholarships up. We don’t talk about this a lot. OC has been and probably always will be run by humble, servant-hearted people. We don’t want you to know we’re killing ourselves, that we’re pinching every penny we can and calling in every favor we know to give students a truly top-tier education, and a remarkable spiritual community, at an attainable price.

I’ll tell you this story in more detail in a later post, but this sacrificial mode has always been the case on this campus. Throughout OC’s history, even though tuition is our main financial driver, the financial investments our students and their families make have never met the total financial need for the University to stay open. Not ever.* (Today, student investments cover 71% of the pie.)

That’s probably difficult to wrap your mind around. I know it was for me the first time I heard it. “How on earth can I be paying this much (and so can 2,000 of my friends) and the University still not have enough?” My good friend and acting CFO, Jeff Bingham, will explain this in detail for you a little later, I think. Keep in mind for now, though, that we provide a living wage for 400+ professionals and their families; we maintain 200 acres and 30+ facilities; we feed, house, and care for nearly 2,000 students; and we provide the equipment, resources, and infrastructure necessary to make life possible, convenient, enriching, and fun throughout campus and across more than 60 different majors. (And there’s more.)

Attending a university like OC is expensive business. Running a university like OC is even more so.

Why do I say all of this? It’s not to diminish the investment you have or will make at Oklahoma Christian. Not at all. You have my respect and admiration for giving and going here. Rather, it’s to show you that behind the scenes we really struggle with respecting and addressing your commitment and your needs at the same time that we try to make all ends meet.

This is the main reason I struggle to be bluntly honest about OC’s cost. When you’re constantly burning the candle and trimming the fat, the unavoidable truth of the private education price tag just hurts. (Kills me, in fact.) If it were possible to give every student the best OC experience and zero debt, we’d all do it in a heartbeat.**

Okay. With that context and a taste of my emotion out there, let’s get to the meat of your question: “Why would OC use (my) tuition on XYZ Campaign Project?”

This is surprisingly easy to answer. We wouldn’t.

Students pay for expert professors, a phenomenal staff, spiritual mentors, safe and comfortable places to live, healthy food, quality academic resources, financial advice, admissions assistance, personal and professional development, and the infrastructure that makes all those things possible. And that’s exactly what tuition provides.

If a project appears on any OC Campaign, it does so precisely because tuition will not fund it. Instead, we depend on generous families, businesses, and foundations to make these important efforts happen. Voluntarily.

We haven’t always done a good job of articulating this reality to the OC family, particularly our students. When I was in school, I was convinced my tuition funded everything. (And why shouldn’t I have been? I was paying a lot, after all.) So as a matter of righting some of that misinformation and closing this post out with some semblance of brevity, allow me to give it to you straight on a smattering of projects:

1965 – Mabee Learning Center: $0 tuition

1966 – Hardeman Auditorium: $0 tuition

1971 – Davisson American Heritage Building: $0 tuition

1971 – Herold Science Hall: $0 tuition

1980 – Harvey Business Center: $0 tuition

1982 – Enterprise Square: $0 tuition

1998 – McIntosh Conservatory: $0 tuition

2004 – McBride Center for Public Humanities: $0 tuition

2007 – Jackson Family Intramural Fields: $0 tuition

2007 – Lawson Commons, McGraw Pavilion & Freede Clock Tower: $0 tuition

2006 – Herold Science Hall Renovation: $0 tuition

2008 – Mabee Labs at Vose Hall: $0 tuition

2010 – Noble Science Wing: $0 tuition

2011 – Intergenerational Faith Center: $0 tuition

2012 – Benson Hall Renovation: $0 tuition

2012 – Das Millicanhaus (Vienna Facility) Purchase: $0 tuition

2012 – Eagle Trail: $0 tuition

2013 – Tom Heath Softball Field: $0 tuition

2013 – Baugh Chair of Gospel Preaching: $0 tuition

2014 – Thrive: $0 tuition

With that, I’ll leave you to digest and be blessed. Thanks for loving and investing in Oklahoma Christian. We know it takes work. We know it takes faith. We know it takes sacrifice. And we love you for all you do.

-Will

*PS – Don’t read this and think OC’s in danger of shutting her doors. We have a healthy endowment (invested resources that produce yearly interest for University activities), some business interests, and a strategic fundraising plan that keeps OC in good financial shape. You might even say we're Thriving.

**PPS – I don’t believe a debt-free OC experience for all is an absolute impossibility. I believe in miracles and I hate being put in boxes. Maybe you have the breakthrough idea or resources that could make that happen. Dream big and give big with us and we just might find out.