"St. Olaf takes pride in providing an academically rigorous, personalized education at a reasonable price," Alan Norton, vice president and treasurer, said in the letter.
The cost of a St. Olaf education has increased steadily for the last 10 years, from $18,180 in 1995 to $30,950 this school year. Many factors affect tuition increases from year to year; among them: keeping class sizes down, maintaining buildings and grounds and allowing for faculty and staff benefits.
Besides student tuition, the college also draws income from the interest earned from its endowment. While $217 million may seem like a lot of money to some, the college currently withdraws 4.7 percent each year for expenses, leaving the rest to accumulate interest. President Christopher Thomforde points out in "Ensuring Our Future," an article published in January in the St. Olaf Magazine, many of the schools St. Olaf competes with, such as Carleton, Macalester and Grinnell, "have endowments two to three times ours with about half the students."
Thomforde's article also suggests an increase in the endowment would improve the college's ranking in the U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings.
The result of this discrepancy is that schools with large amounts of capital to draw on are able to use the money generated to keep tuition stable and schools like St. Olaf, with smaller bank accounts, must rely heavily on current students to fill in budget gaps while simultaneously attempting to increase the amount of money in the endowment fund.
Need-based scholarships and grants will increase in conjunction with tuition, although merit-based scholarships will not. This means that, according to Norton, "The average St. Olaf student will not see a six percent increase, but a three percent increase" in their comprehensive fee.
Kathy Ruby, director of Financial Aid, pointed out that St. Olaf has a commitment to meeting the full demonstrated need of its students. "When we award need-based scholarships and grants, it basically is uncollected tuition," she said.
Federal and state government financial aid will not help St. Olaf with its increase in tuition. However, administrators took this and other factors, such as the economy and the balance between the tuition increase and the increase in financial aid St. Olaf will have to award based on need, into account when making their decision.
St. Olaf hopes that by economizing its budget plan, it will be able to lower the increase in the cost of tuition in the future. "Were in the midst of a push to economize our budget plan," Norton said.
St. Olaf is not the only college with a rising tuition.
"This situation is virtually the same for any private college in the country," Norton said. The trade off, as Ruby points out, is that some of those schools do not meet financial aid as St. Olaf does.
St. Olaf administrators want students to know that the tuition increase has a purpose.
"I just hope they understand that were not raising tuition some amount because were lazy," Norton said. "We anguish over that increase, and a lot of effort goes into keeping it down. Whether a student sees a six percent increase or a one percent increase we hope the value of the education justifies it. I cant say Ive ever heard anyone say that the value of the education here wasnt excellent."