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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

A look into budget history

By Jean Mullins
Executive Editor

Friday, April 9, 2004

St. Olaf has been experiencing budget problems its entire existence. Here are some of the highlights from the past 25 years.

1969 The 1969-1970 school year saw the first budget deficit in years. "High-cost" classes - those with fewer than 10 students enrolled - were the first items eliminated. Some argued that by offering only the classes in which a high number of students showed interest, the college would not maintain its dedication to a liberal arts education. Many complained that the college was becoming too expensive. Student columnist David J. Nelson wrote in 1971: "St. Olaf grew and prospered as a religious and poor man's ethnic institution. The religion is now down to a country club noncommittalism or a narrow-minded fundamentalism, in the main. The poor men are out economically."

1971 The college experienced a bit of good fortune after two previous years of budget deficit, when it had a small budget surplus of $334,000, which was enough to pay off all but $14,000 of the debt incurred over the previous two years. As a result, St. Olaf was able to hold the student comprehensive fee at $3,400.

1975 The Board of Regents called for an increase in the endowment, from $4,500,000 to $10,000,000. With this, the board hoped that the college would enjoy increased financial security. Between 1975 and 1977, the cost of tuition increased from $3,800 to $4,350. The annual budget saw an increase from $12,688,000 to $16,240,000. Students, on average, paid between 75 and 80 percent of the school's total budget. The college was doing better than most academic institutions at the time, and the college president at the time, Sidney Rand, said, "The key is enrollment." By maintaining the number of students, the college was able to retain a good portion of its budget.

1986 St. Olaf formed an ad hoc committee - which included administrators, professors and students - to investigate new ways for students to pay tuition. The committee was responding to growing difficulties families were having paying for a private institution and the decrease in the amount of financial aid being offered by both the college and outside sources.

1992 St. Olaf saw a decrease in enrollment, and the college expected the trend to continue. Many students found that they preferred enrolling in public universities for less, and as a result, the college suffered. Without the same enrollment, and with students paying the majority of the budget through their comprehensive fee, the college expected a shortage of $1,100,000. The administration asked each department to save five percent of its budget, but there was a threat that some departments might lose staff members as a result.

1993 As the lower enrollment trend continued, Treasurer Charles Upshaw froze the college's operating budget for the next fiscal year. Faced with the possibility of increasing tuition rather than freezing the budget, Upshaw said, "The budget is the fairest track to take. Additionally, it is better business sense. We do not want to price ourselves out of the mark."

- Compiled from Manitou Messenger archives

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