Board approves tuition hike of 7.3 percent

By Matt Day

The cost of a Macalester education will rise to $44,976 for the 2008-2009 academic year, President Brian Rosenberg announced in a letter, which he sent out on Monday, to parents of current students. The comprehensive fee will go up $3,062 from this year’s cost of $41,914, at an increase of 7.3 percent.This year’s tuition hike is due in part to an expansion of Macalester’s academic offerings, like Arabic, Chinese and the new human rights concentration, as well as an increase in funding for study abroad programs, said David Wheaton, vice president of administration and finance.

“[The new academic programs] reflect the kind of world [students] are going into and in many ways that’s what we try to do,” Wheaton said.

The Board of Trustees approved the revised comprehensive fee during its conference call Jan. 15.

Blythe Austin ’08, student liaison to the Board, said that the fee increase also factors in the additional programming that will come with the completion of the Macalester Athletic and Recreational Facility.

“The issue with the Board is you’ve got all these programs you want to fund, and you have to figure out how to do that,” Austin said.

A graph included with Rosenberg’s letter to parents shows the 2007-2008 comprehensive fees of the top 40 liberal arts colleges as ranked by US News & World Report. Macalester has the fourth lowest comprehensive fee of the group.

“I think we’re doing a good job as one of the most selective schools in the country,” Wheaton said.

“In next year’s budget, we have increased our budget for student work, both by raising the hourly rate significantly and by expanding the available hours,” Wheaton said. “Since over 70 percent of our students have some work hours, this may help mitigate the comprehensive fee increase in a small way.”

The Board approves the comprehensive fee, a combination of tuition, room and board costs and the activity fee, each January so prospective students can consider the new figure before they commit to any school.

According to data from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Macalester’s tuition rose at an average rate of 4.8 percent per year between 1998 and 2004. The increase in each of the five academic years since has averaged 7.8 percent.

Room and board fees will increase in the new comprehensive fee by four percent and two percent, respectively.

Wheaton said. “Since over 70 percent of our students have some work hours, this may help mitigate the comprehensive fee increase in a small way.”

The Board approves the comprehensive fee, a combination of tuition, room and board costs and the activity fee, each January so prospective students can consider the new figure before they commit to any school.

According to the Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee’s report on the fee, room and board cost increases have been kept low in an effort to motivate students to live on campus.

Austin said schools around the nation are facing similar issues with controlling the cost of the programming they offer.

According to the Finance Committee, Grinnell College raised tuition by 13 percent in 2007-2008. Grinnell is a liberal arts college the Board considers a member of Macalester’s peer group.

Other schools have responded to rising fees by replacing student loans with grants, which frees students of debt to their university or college. Schools like Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania have all taken steps to eliminate student loans.

Blackburn College, a private institution in Carlinville, Ill., recently took a different route, reducing tuition by 15 percent in 2007-2008 by eliminating most merit-based aid.

“Those schools tend to have a really big endowment, or they tend to have a low percentage of the student body on financial aid,” Wheaton said.

Austin agreed. “Colleges that are getting rid of loans generally have very affluent applicant pools and have greater resources,” she said.

Macalester typically awards need-based financial aid to two-thirds of its students.

Tuition increases are not a new problem, Wheaton said. He said that years ago while walking through the College Relations office he noticed a “Macalester Today” alumni magazine with a cover story about spiraling nationwide tuition costs.

“It was about how tuition was rising and people weren’t sure what would happen,” he said. “[The magazine] was from 1989.”

“This is a problem for all of higher education,” Wheaton said. “Nobody knows quite where this will go.