Hendrix President Bill Tsutsui Says Private Education Affordable in a Roundabout Way

This story was originally published on Oct. 20, 2014, in Arkansas Business

By Arkansas Business Staff

William M. "Bill" Tsutsui was announced as president of Hendrix in November and assumed office in June.

Before coming to Hendrix, where he also is a history professor, Tsutsui was dean of Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from 2010 to 2014. He holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Princeton universities. Before joining SMU, Tsutsui spent 17 years at the University of Kansas, where he was acting director of KU’s Center for East Asian Studies and chair of the Department of History. Tsutsui is the author or editor of eight books, including "Manufacturing Ideology: Scientific Management in Twentieth-Century Japan" and "Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters."

The cost of higher education continues to grow, outpacing inflation. Does this pose any problems for Hendrix? If it does, what are you doing to address them?

The heritage of Hendrix is to take middle-class kids, give them an exceptional education and prepare them to be professionals (doctors, ministers, lawyers, accountants) who are leaders in their communities. We are committed to keeping Hendrix affordable for families of all means, even as the cost of the high-touch, personalized, engaged experience we offer continues to rise. We work very hard to assure prospective students and their parents, many of whom are spooked by alarmist media reports, that our financial aid packages keep Hendrix within the reach of all.

On a larger level, what’s behind the increase in costs nationally and what can be done to curb them?

Colleges face the same economic pressures as all businesses in America today: rising health care costs, stiff competition for the best personnel and proliferating government regulations. At Hendrix, with our small classes, intense student focus and beautiful campus, everything we do is labor intensive and our standards are high. Like all businesses, we are constantly striving to find creative ways to control costs while continuing to offer the finest possible service. We refuse to cut corners like many institutions have — so no giant lecture halls, impersonal online courses or armies of graduate students teaching classes at Hendrix — but that means we need to be smart about budgets and focused on efficiency.

You’ve worked in both public and private higher education. Hendrix, a private college, is comparatively expensive. What do you say to parents or students looking to maximize their return on investment to justify the higher costs?

Although the sticker price at Hendrix may seem relatively high, 100 percent of our students receive financial aid, and many pay no more to attend Hendrix than they would a comparably high-ranked public institution. This is reflected in the moderate debt burdens carried by Hendrix graduates: Only 43 percent had any debt whatsoever compared with 70 percent of college grads nationwide and even lower than the Arkansas average. The average indebtedness of Hendrix grads is also well below the national and statewide benchmarks. Hendrix also has the highest retention and four-year graduation rates in Arkansas: This means students move through their undergraduate educations faster and go on to advanced training or employment even sooner.

You’ve said that you want to raise the national profile of Hendrix College. How will you do that?

Top liberal arts colleges like Hendrix have traditionally been reluctant about tooting their own horns. We’ve got to stop being so shy, as we have so much to be proud of. So my first initiative as president was to engage the Richards Group of Dallas, which represents firms like Home Depot and Chick-fil-A, to conduct a comprehensive brand study for Hendrix. We need to define our identity, refine our messaging and communicate our distinctiveness more effectively.