Tuition increases by 3.7 percent to $33,500 for next school year

Julia Aizuss

Tuition for the 2014-2015 school year will rise to $33,500 from $32,300, an increase of 3.7 percent, Chief Financial Officer Rob Levin said.

Chair of the Board of Trustees Christine Hazy (Steven ’00, Karissa ’03, Trenton ’05, Courtney ’11) announced next year’s tuition Feb. 3 in a re-enrollment letter online.

“This tuition is expected to keep Harvard-Westlake slightly below the major local independent school median,” Hazy wrote in the letter.

Levin said the increase’s rate, which is about equal to the rate of inflation plus two percent, is the result of an effort to make tuition as low as is prudent. He referenced a saying of Albert Einstein: “make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

“We can do [a tuition increase of] one percent right now, we can do zero percent right now, we can do [a tuition decrease of negative 10 percent] right now, but there will be consequences that we think are unacceptable,” Levin said. “We figure out what kind of school we want to be, what it’s going to cost to do that efficiently and then what tuition we have to charge to make that happen.”

In fact, the increase of inflation plus two percent is a successful initiative by the Business Office to slow what was an annual tuition increase of inflation plus four percent.

“Could the tuition increase be lower?” Levin said. “Yeah. Now could it be higher? Things that we would like to do, but choose not to? Sure. We can’t do all of it. So for everything we do, we have to say, if we were the parents, would we want to invest more tuition dollars to make this happen.”

The tuition’s consistent annual increase is also part of the school’s duty to be a “shock-absorber,” Levin said.

“When you drive down the street, there are potholes, there are irregularities in the road, there are bumps,” he said. “So if you watch a car going down the street, the tires are bumping all around, but the vehicle, not so much. Annual giving goes up and down. Your enrollment goes up a little and down a little, the financial aid goes up a little and down a little, you have all these bumps in the road.”

Just as the vehicle should not bounce along with its tires, tuition should not bounce all over, Levin said. Thus during the 2008-2009 recession, the Business Office didn’t raise tuition for the next few years as much as it had to. Conversely, in the past few years, Levin said the Business Office raised tuition more than necessary.

“We’re glad the last two years we didn’t cool it quite as hard as we had to because this year some of the balls bounced against us,” Levin said. “We could have easily [raised tuition] four percent. Had we been restrained last year, we might have gone five percent, but we saw that coming. So instead you have [tuition raised by] 3.3, 3.0, 3.7. We’ve got shock-absorbers.”

The Business Office even has a motto for the tuition increases: “steady as she goes.”

Levin added that Chief Accounting Officer David Weil ’93 likes to say “keep calm and carry on,” while former President Tom Hudnut would say, “Radiate calm.”

“I don’t yet know what [President Rick] Commons’ phrase is for that, but that is absolutely his belief,” Levin said. “There’s enough stress in the world without creating it by us lurching around financially.”