In 2007, the price tag of the two new residential colleges was projected to be nearly $600 million. Six years later, cost projections have fallen by almost $100 million.

Although the University has curbed construction costs for the project since the recession, the residential colleges remain more expensive than most residential college construction projects at Yale’s peer institutions in recent years. And with a price tag of approximately $500 million, the new colleges are also among the most expensive capital projects on any single site in Connecticut. Though 10 faculty members interviewed declined to comment on the cost of the new colleges, 10 other professors said the importance of expanding Yale College through the establishment of two new residential colleges justifies the planned expenditure.

“I think one has to take a holistic and a longer term view of any capital project,” School of Management professor Ravi Dhar said in an email. “I trust the [University’s] overall strategy and commitment to ensure capital projects are built for the long term.”

Morse College Master Amy Hungerford — who serves on the Ad Hoc Committee of the Yale College Expansion and the Budget Committee — said the original plans for the new residential colleges were made before the financial recession, at a time of budget surpluses.

She said the University reconsidered those plans once a $250-million gift from Charles Johnson this fall made it possible to begin moving forward again on the colleges, which will be funded entirely using donations rather than the University’s budget. As work had already been done to prepare the building site for the original plans, Hungerford said the options to change cost structures were somewhat limited. Despite these constraints, she said she believes the University has made good attempts to rein in costs.

“I’m really quite convinced that this administration understands that there is not an endless supply of money, and I feel this administration is really taking a hard look,” said Peggy Deamer, Assistant Dean of the Yale School of Architecture and member of the University Budget Committee. “I feel there is a sincere concern whether money is being spent in a responsible way.”

Provost Benjamin Polak, who co-chairs the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Yale College Expansion and chairs the Budget Committee, could not be reached for comment this week.

Though Dhar said faculty members do not have enough information to assess whether $500 million is too much or too little to spend on the residential colleges, he stressed that “cutting corners” on capital project expenditures is unwise in the long-run.

The new buildings will be in service for at least a century, so there is little margin for error, said chemistry professor William Jorgensen and Ronald Breaker, chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department. When the University does not devote resources to build state-of-the-art buildings, the results can be “endlessly problematic,” Jorgensen added.

Institutions that must balance long-term financial planning against shorter term operational needs often make the mistake of ignoring capital improvements and instead focusing on short-term needs, School of Management professor Thomas Kolditz said. But the longer institutions wait, the more it costs to perform the improvements, he said, adding that the construction of Yale’s new residential colleges seems to be a “pretty wise move.”

“We need to consider the fact that most of the large projects, including the new colleges, will create the infrastructure and the building-scape that will affect the Yale community for the next 200 years,” Breaker said. “We’ve got to get this right, even if it means we will pay more for a building than Princeton.”

The costs of Yale’s new residential colleges are significantly greater than those of recent capital projects at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Princeton University’s Whitman College — a 500-person residential college similar to one of Yale’s — opened in the fall of 2007 and cost a total of $136 million. Five years earlier, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spent less than $94 million on the 350-student Simmons Hall, the building’s elaborate architecture and high cost was widely reported in the media.

The per-student construction cost of Simmons Hall was $268,000 — more than quadruple the national average of $48,387 per student, according to a 2008 report by American School & University magazine. In contrast, the per-student cost of Yale’s new residential colleges, which will house 400 students each, will be approximately $625,000 per student.

Given the cost of the two new colleges, two professors interviewed were not convinced that the expenditures are sensible.

“There has been a culture at the University that every building has to be done to the highest aesthetic quality,” said School of Management professor and University Budget Committee member Judith Chevalier.

School of Management professor Fiona Scott Morton ’89 questioned the wisdom of prioritizing capital spending over other University initiatives.

She said the real value that Yale provides to society is the way professors change how students think and how well they think.

“The University clearly needs buildings to fulfill its mission, but in my opinion the priorities of our decision-makers have skewed somewhat in the last decade away from teaching and research and towards property,” Scott Morton said. “You need a building in which to teach [students], but the expenditures on it need to be balanced so as to also allow expenditures on the other inputs into learning.”

Still, School of Management professor Olav Sorenson said adding the donor-funded colleges is a prudent financial move. The 15 percent increase in the size of the student body will bring in additional revenue in the form of tuition, he added. The new colleges will also help Yale recruit faculty and expand educational opportunities for students.

Fundraising for the new colleges is set to be completed by the end of the year, though the colleges still needed an additional $75 million in funds as of October 2013.

  • AB

    killin’ it, adrian.

  • steveb

    This is all really “water under the bridge,” because it is too late to go back a few years and do something more sensible. Still, it is important to think hard about trade-offs and priorities, because issues of over-the-top buildings will arise again. Surely we should build very nice and very durable new colleges, but spending $625,000 per student bed is outrageous. The idea that students won’t come to Yale unless we spend twice as much per bed as Princeton’s (very nice and extremely well built) Whitman College is an insult to Yale and Yale students. The students housed in “L-Dub” don’t have anything like 600-some square feet per student, and yet they seem happy to be at Yale. The symbolism is terrible; many Yale senior faculty members cannot spend $625,000 on a house for their entire family. Indeed, $625,000 would buy a near-mansion in nice New Haven neighborhood for each and every incoming student.

    Folks say this is “donor driven,” but if that were true all the construction money would have been raised in a much shorter period of time. As far as I know, nothing has been donated to offset the very substantial depreciation costs on the new structures, so that will born by the operating budget.

    The good news is that the current Provost and President, and the current UBC (including co-Chair Profs. Chevalier and Levinsohn), have the correct priorities about buildings and I hope the Yale community (in and out of New Haven) will support them in future building projects that are of appropriate high quality but also appropriate cost. This will free up funds for the university’s core mission of research and teaching.

    • steveb

      When I signed up for an account, I thought my real name would show up as well. Since part of my motive is to make clear that (contrary to the headline) a good fraction of the Yale faculty back UBC Chair Judy Chevalier’s carefully researched analysis, I will “sign” my name to this.

      Steve Berry, Prof. of Economics

    • Lynn Belvedere

      This comment hilariously ignores the most pertinent examples of Yale’s own experiences with Morse and Stiles, the last colleges constructed, where the University’s approach was quite deliberately similar to the one advanced by Professor Berry and the results were long term disasters that required very expensive recent and intense remediation. Remind me, Professor Berry, how does that popular definition of “insanity” go?

      Instead the information cherry picker travels far south to Princeton and north to MIT, with an airy finale about LDub that lacks any account taken of it being entirely frosh housing or the fact that students in LDub are well known to spend far less time in their rooms than other frosh. Details, details.

      But there are numbers! Of course, the numbers, too, are of a highly selective nature. $625,000 per student bed! Twice as much as Whitman – which has no library. But let us not dwell on the fact that students consigned to a Whitmanesque college on the science-hill fringe of the Yale campus would COMPLETELY CORRECTLY know they had been stashed in quarters far inferior to those of the fellow undergraduates. Let us not dwell on it because Professor Berry spends not a syllable on the issue. We are told (or rather, it is insinuated) that 600-some square feet per student is apparently excessive, but no mention is made of how that compares to the existing colleges or where the space is allocated (that library again, other facilities?). The Whitman Great Hall seats 168. How many students are to be packed into each of the new colleges, Professor Berry? Will they be as able to hop across to, say, Sterling or Bass Libraries as their fellow students housed in Berkley or Calhoun or Trumbull? Does any of that warrant a line in your analysis? Whitman also has a small common room, which is nice.

      And, of course, we lament that “many Yale senior faculty members cannot spend $625,000 on a house [but] $625,000 would buy a near-mansion in nice New Haven neighborhood.” So which is it? Are Yale faculty in shabby housing or do they require near mansions?

      Is it unfair to suggest that Professor Berry’s comments have something of an abstract quality to them that lack, shall we say, any serious effort at real world corroboration? Almost like a module in a econometric fantasy model? Did I read something about a “carefully researched analysis” in all this?

      • ldffly

        I am ready to believe that any level of critique of the new colleges (which I do not oppose) or of the expansion of enrollment (which I do oppose) will open the floodgates of coordinated attack.

        • td2016

          There certainly seems to be something coordinated and artificial about the support for Professor Berry’s rather sketchy and opaque comment here. Perhaps the word “fraudulent” should be considered.

    • timguinnane

      I agree with Prof. Berry

      — Tim Guinnane, professor of economics

      • td2016

        This kind of analysis-free “I agree” voting suggests academic logrolling and provincial politics more than serious thought. Yes, it’s nice that the guy in the next office knows you have his back in the faculty count, but so what for the real world? Was there nothing in the Swiss cheese reasoning of Berry’s comment that even needed clarification? Please. Your personal agenda is showing.

    • ldffly

      ” As far as I know, nothing has been donated to offset the very substantial depreciation costs on the new structures, so that will born by the operating budget.”

      In another venue a few years ago, I raised that issue. I was told that maintenance and upkeep had been budgeted. When I asked about documentation for that claim, I was told in essence that I needed to trust the administration. That was not encouraging.

  • carl

    Whitman College has some good masonry. But its decorative detail leaves a lot to be desired. Here’s the WSJ’s take:
    Given the exquisite results, and the otherwise wholly traditional
    character of Mr. Porphyrios’s Whitman buildings, the inadequate
    decoration is particularly regrettable, especially as its proper
    handling would have been a marginal expense. Combining Gothic lancets
    and classical bull’s-eye windows, Community Hall resembles an early
    Renaissance guild hall, erected circa 1400, whose members ran out of
    dough before they could give the building an appropriate finish. The
    cloister arcade looks positively threadbare. The grand scale of the
    southern courtyard these two structures face should be modulated by
    figurative detail that catches the eye from a distance. But here as
    elsewhere, such ornament as Mr. Porphyrios offers is often poorly scaled
    or even poorly designed, and also too shallow in relief and/or crudely
    carved with power tools.

  • Zachary Cunningham

    According to DegreeRegistry.org , a general MBA can be obtained for as little as $6k and as high as $120k. If students would do a little research, they would find that it is not nearly as expensive to get a college degree.

    • td2016

      Yes, the cost of a degree is easy to research with a little effort on the internet. The cost of a personally appropriate and useful education is a lot harder to ascertain.

  • Nancy Morris

    I wish some donor (or group of donors) would come forward with a $50 or $100 Million pledge in addition to the $500 Million base construction amount, and contingent on that amount being spent on the new colleges, to enhance the detailing of the new colleges and bring them closer to the artistic level of Branford and Saybrook, and to ensure they are as special as the existing colleges. One might begin with cladding them, at least their street facades, with sandstone similar to that used for the existing gothic colleges. Of course, the quarries for the actual original Branford/Saybrook sandstone are long closed. But similar, nearly equivalent stone can and should surely be found.

    There is such a unfortunate risk of students coming to believe that those quartered in the new colleges were “Quadded” (to use the awful Harvard term for those consigned to the old Radcliffe Quadrangle) in what is viewed as inferior, isolated space. That would be a huge burden on Yale in more ways than we can calculate. Yes, the current renderings of the new colleges are gorgeous, but renderings almost always are. It would be worth additional expenditures to buy some insurance against that eventuality, and investment in well done art and architecture almost always pays bountiful returns.

    One can hope.

  • 72bullldog

    If one is going to build new residential colleges, they need to be up to the ‘wow’ factor that most of the current RCs possess. If Mr Harkness had listened to some of the doubters (and there were many in the 1920s) , Yale would not be Yale today.