In a panel organized by the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC), Vice President and Treasurer Alan Norton tried to explain the rising cost of tuition and allay some student fears in Viking Theater last Thursday.
In his opening remarks, Norton assured students, "We dont just raise the cost. We dont say, 'We could make more money,' and raise it. We think a lot about this."
Norton proceeded to talk about why St. Olafs tuition is increasing at roughly twice the rate of inflation. He explained that grants, gifts and endowments were for the most part increasing for the 2006-2007 school year, but also that they were decreasing in some areas. He also stated that some costs, such as energy, were on the rise.
"We strive to be less efficient," Norton said, a statement met with chuckles around the room. "If we wanted to be cheap, we could double class sizes. But, do you want a class of 35? Or 25? Or 15?"
Norton continued along this path, saying that the school is always looking for less expensive ways to do things, but at the same time, does not want to compromise small class sizes and faculty availability. Norton also stated that large classes can throw off the balance in the cost of tuition. Of the number of students enrolled last fall, he said, "We got too big."
During the question and answer session, Norton tried to address general concerns presented by attendees. While the session did not delve into different departments or their budget allocations, when faced with inquiries about the religion department class sizes, Norton did say that some upper-level religion classes would have to increase in size. He reiterated that the college is committed to keeping classes small, but stated that sometimes there is a trade-off, and in the case of the religion department, slightly larger upper-level classes meant that lower-level required courses could stay smaller.
Most of the questions were related to financial aid for students. One concern was that tuition will continue to rise, and will soon be out of range for all but the richest students. Norton empathized with the students, saying that the cost was rising faster than most familys incomes, and also that the college does not want to become a body of homogeneously wealthy students. While he did not provide a solution, he did say that since he began working with tuition costs in the 1980s, it has always looked like costs were right at the edge of affordability.
One of the last points Norton touched on was financial aid. He stressed that St. Olaf is committed to making sure that every accepted student has the chance to attend. He also enlisted the help of Financial Aid Director Kathy Ruby, who said that the number of students who drop out for financial reasons is "not alarming," and that there are many ways for students who need help to get it.