By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — The price tag of a Middlebury College education will reach $50,780 for the 2009-2010 school year, college administrators announced late last month in a letter to parents.
Though the 3.2 percent increase over last year’s comprehensive fee is the lowest in nearly four decades, the $1,570 hike in tuition, room and board and the student activity fee pushes the annual cost of a Middlebury education over $50,000 for the first time.
But according to college admissions, the tuition hike will necessitate even more budget cuts as the college tries to grapple with a $300 million hit to the school’s endowment.
According to Patrick Norton, the vice president for administration and treasurer at the college, holding tuition flat at this year’s levels “just would have been too much for the budget too bear.”
Currently, the comprehensive fee at the college is $49,210.
For the college to have frozen the comprehensive fee for next year, Norton said, the school would have needed to find an additional $4 million per year for the budget.
As it stands, he said, the college is already hard at work trying to trim approximately $20 million dollars from its spending plan in light of dwindling donations to the school and a $300 million hit to the institution’s endowment.
Norton said the 3.2 percent increase in the comprehensive fee comes in under the 4.9 percent increase built into the college’s financial model, a move which could require even more budget cuts.
“We work in earnest … to come up with a fee that is both reasonable but also helps us balance our budget,” Norton said. “It’s not a scientific algorithm. It’s a little art and a little science.”
Though Norton said the $50,780 price comes in under the actual cost to educate Middlebury students — which would cost between $70,000 and $80,000 without funding from the endowment and donations to the college — he said he knows that isn’t much consolation to families paying the full amount of the comprehensive fee.
“I’m sure there will be talks going forward about how do we keep the price levels reasonable,” Norton said.
As the college’s Budget Oversight Committee continues to look for places to save money, Norton said the next round of cutbacks could be announced as early as this week.
“We’re certainly not out of the woods yet,” Norton said, though he said the staffing cuts recommended in January, which call for a 10 percent reduction in staff through early retirement and attrition over the next few years, have already helped the college make headway towards its budget goals.
“That’s the business is we’re in. It’s labor-driven. It’s a service business,” Norton said. “We go around and around on how to balance the budget, but at the end of the day it comes back to labor.”