College tuition increases by 4.8 percent

By Christina Schwartz

[img id=”80477″ align=”alignleft”] The total cost of one year of study in the College, including room and board, will increase to an estimated $49,392—up 4.9 percent from this year’s cost of $47,007. The Board of Trustees approved the increase during its annual winter-quarter meeting.

Undergraduate tuition will increase 4.8 percent from $35,169 to $36,891, while room and board will increase five percent from $11,139 to $11,697. Miscellaneous fees, including student health fees and activity fees, will increase six percent from $699 to $741.

An increase of about five percent in annual costs is typical for the College. Last year, the Board of Trustees authorized a 5.4-percent increase in total annual costs for the 2007–2008 academic year. The year before saw an increase of 5.3 percent, preceded by a five percent increase for both the 2005–2006 and 2004–2005 academic years.

The tuition increase is driven primarily by rising costs. The Commonfund, an independent nonprofit dedicated to increasing the economic vitality of institutions of higher learning, calculated that for the upcoming academic year the average increase in costs to run a university will be about 3.7 percent. This calculation takes into account professional and non-professional salaries and benefits, contractual services, library acquisitions, and utilities.

“The issue with higher education is that while most other industries have gotten more efficient, we have not,” said Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of college enrollment. “We have been able to farm out running the bookstore to Barnes and Noble and the dining services to Aramark, because they understand bulk markets and it is less expensive that way. But when it comes to our educational mission it is hard to economize because we are so dependent on personnel.”

The tuition increase will be accompanied by a proportional increase in financial aid. The University’s new Odyssey Scholarship Program will supplement the rising costs of tuition. The program, effective this fall, is funded through a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor and the $400 million student aid fundraising initiative it spawned. For students whose family income is less than $60,000, loans will be replaced entirely by grants. The program reduces loans by 50 percent for students with family incomes between $60,000 and $75,000.

About 57 percent of the approximately 4,780 undergraduates enrolled in the College receive some financial aid, either need-based, merit-based or a combination of both. Students who receive need-based aid contribute an average of $9,000 from their personal resources toward tuition, room and board, and other fees.

In spite of consistent tuition increases over the past five years, the University did not see a significant increase in financial aid applications and does not anticipate an increase this year, said Alicia Reyes, director of college aid.

Behnke said that he doesn’t expect that the tuition increase will have a negative effect on the recent rise in application numbers.

“If anything, the financial aid program will have a bigger effect. But in general, it seems as though students and their families, when looking at the most selective schools, quality drives the decision much more than a marginal change in price. Thus we need to increase tuition within reason to keep up with the changing competitive landscape,” he said.

Harvard, Princeton, and Yale raised their tuitions 2.2, 3.9, and 3.5 percent respectively, each claiming to be echoing the expected level of consumer price inflation.

“The difficulty with following this model of tying the tuition increase to the expected level of inflation is that our endowment only covers 20 percent of the financial aid budget. If we had a larger portion of the endowment for financial aid, then we would have more flexibility,” Behnke said.

Although the University of Chicago has traditionally been among the nation’s most expensive institutions, it doesn’t top the list. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the most expensive university in the United States is George Washington University, which announced a tuition price tag of $50,342 for the upcoming year, a three-percent increase over last year. Completing the top five are Kenyon College, Bucknell University, Vassar College, and Sarah Lawrence College.