March 11, 2006
John L. Hennessy, President
Stanford University

Dear President Hennessy;

An official statement from Stanford University, published February 15, 2006, reports  that undergraduate tuition for next year will be set at $32,994 (this does not include room and board). We then read, “It is important to note that the money the university collects from tuition covers only about 60 percent of the costs of educating an undergraduate.” This grossly misstates the truth about university financing since the commonly used method of calculating “cost of education” at our research universities bundles together the costs of undergraduate education plus graduate education plus faculty (departmental) research.

Using a variety of official data available for the University of California, I have been able to disaggregate the cost of undergraduate education here and I conclude that student fees at UC (now just under $7,000 per student) amount to 100% of the actual average expenditure on undergraduate education. I have also been able to extend this analysis (approximately) to other leading research universities; and I estimate that at Stanford University the actual expenditure for undergraduate education is about $16,000 per student per year. (See my papers posted at )

Thus, a truthful explanation of the tuition level at Stanford University would be something like the following.

While the actual expenditure directed to undergraduate education at Stanford is only about half of that tuition ($32,994 per student per year), it is important to recognize the importance of the other half, which is mostly spent in support of the university faculty’s research endeavors and related graduate programs. The research accomplishments of our faculty are of great significance to the whole of society and are responsible for the outstanding international reputation of Stanford University. That reputation adds greatly to the value of any diploma Stanford awards to its students; and we believe this justifies the added cost which we pass on as tuition.

I would be greatly interested in your reaction to this.


Charles Schwartz
Professor Emeritus of Physics
UC Berkeley
(and, long ago, a junior faculty member at Stanford)