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College tuition hike

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April 26, 2007

By HARRIETTE BRAINARD

MIDDLEBURY — The annual cost of attending Middlebury College will hit $46,910, a 5.25 percent increase over the prior year, for the 2007-08 academic year. The increase includes a 5 percent bump in the comprehensive fee and a 50 percent jump in the student activities fee set by the Student Government Association (SGA).

College officials this week said the increase reflects the commitment their institution has made to increasing faculty size and student aid as outlined in the strategic plan approved last May.

“With the federal government taking less of a role in providing scholarships to college students all of us who are involved in educating students are trying to reduce the loan component for the sake of the student,” said Vice President for Communications Mike McKenna.

Middlebury College received a record 7,188 applications for the approximately 600 spots in the class of 2011. Along with a 38 percent jump in applicants since 2005, the college has experienced during the same period a 72 percent rise in the number of applicants who identify themselves as students of color.

According to Kim Downs, director of student financial services, the increase in the size of the grants allows students to graduate with less debt.

“We want graduates to be free to pursue the careers of their choice, including work for nonprofits, without having to consider their post-college debt,” she said in a release. “We want to broaden the group of students who are eligible for financial aid and encourage socio-economic diversity among our student body as well.”

Many college students receive financial aid, which often combines grants, work-study options and loans. Middlebury College attracts a more diverse student body if the aid package retains less of a loan component that will have to be paid back after graduation, officials said. The nation’s top universities with large endowments, such as Princeton and Harvard, are able to offer students more grant money, which puts pressure on all colleges to be competitive with student aid packages to achieve a more diverse student body.

“We don’t want it to come down to who has a bigger endowment,” says McKenna, adding that “the goal of the college is to offer the best educational experience possible, and the way to do that is to widen the student body.”

Though the increase exceeds last year’s rate of inflation by more than 2 percent, in a letter sent out to students and parents last Tuesday Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz said the increases were necessary to help the college meet its commitments. Liebowitz’s letter explained that even with the comprehensive fee increases, their payments to the college still fell short of completely covering a student’s education.

“Ours is primarily a human-intensive operation with salaries and benefits representing more than half the annual budget,” Liebowitz wrote in an e-mail. “To attract and retain the strongest faculty and staff, both expect raises that are at or above the inflation rate. Add that to our goal to replace loans with grants in our financial aid packages, and it is virtually impossible to simply increase by the rate of inflation.”

Those goals, however, come at a price. Projections released by the SGA’s Comprehensive Fee Committee predicted mandatory fees could near a combined $60,000 within the next five years.

“We recognize that a Middlebury education is a major investment that families and the college make together to support the education of our students,” the letter said. “Our fee covers just 63 percent of the actual cost, with the balance coming from our fund-raising efforts and support from the college’s endowment.”

STUDENT ACTIVITIES FEE

Concerning the sharp increase in the student activities fees, McKenna said the students made a good case for increased activities at a higher cost.

“The past years have actually seen a decrease in the student activities fee,” McKenna noted, “however, this increase in fees is entirely student driven. The SGA did a great deal of research, and put a great deal of time and effort into their presentation — making a clear case for the increase, and making it very easy for us to say yes to increased funds for student activities. Our goal is to make sure there is a lot going on on campus.”

The higher activities charge of $360, up from $240, will net the SGA an additional $282,000 to support student organizations on campus. SGA Finance Committee Chair Amanda Goodwin explained in an interview with The Campus (the college newspaper) that the money will help restore funding to clubs that saw their budgets cut this year.

The student activities fund covers a wide range of activities for student life. Due to the varied interests of students in a liberal arts college these funds are not only necessary but disappear quickly. SGA officials have said that their fees have not increased much if any over the years and have not kept up with the rate of inflation for almost a decade.

In addition to the numerous clubs on campus, the SGA handles much of the funding for special requests, including those from the Middlebury College Activities Board. The SGA would also like to have more coordination between the groups that provide entertainment to the college community; a consolidation of these funds would mean that the students at Middlebury College would see higher profile performers brought to the college for concerts.

SGA President Alex Stanton, a senior, told The Campus that he was confident that students and families would react positively to the higher fee in light of a survey on the allocation of activities funds conducted by the SGA in February. That survey suggested students were most interested in attracting more big-name performers to the campus, among a host of other activities.

“Students have pretty clearly demonstrated that they want their student organizations to be funded at higher levels,” Stanton said. “There is a tendency to look at fee increases like this as a top-down imposition from a faceless organization. In this case, it’s the opposite: overwhelming student demand drove the increases.”

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