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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

A Word from Our Editors: Tuition woes

By Matt Tiano
Executive Editor
and Peter Farrell
Executive Editor

Friday, March 14, 2008

Last Thursday, you received some mail. At this point, it's predictable -- a letter indicating a tuition increase for the 2008-2009 school year. Many were and continue to be upset with yet another increase of the cost of a higher education.

For inexplicable reasons, the College still has decided that engaging the student body in a dialogue about tuition is a bad idea. We need to be included -- or at least clued in -- as to why tuition is increasing. We had a chance to get the lowdown. Here's what we found:

The cost for a returning student (you) has increased from $38,500 to $40,600, a 5.5 percent rise in price. This is the second-lowest percentage increase among comparable liberal arts colleges in Minnesota (Carleton is increasing tuition by 5.2 percent), but still represents a significant sum of money. Furthermore, even though this is characteristic of a national trend, many students are upset with the comparison President Anderson made: "At the same time, compared to the cost of other leading liberal arts colleges in our region and nationally, St. Olaf remains a tremendous value." Students have justifiably wondered whether or not St. Olaf is worth $40,000-plus, or whether St. Olaf ought to be increasing its price just because other colleges are too.

However, the comparison may have been taken out of context because, as Anderson notes, St. Olaf already is one of those so-called elite colleges, and it is reasonably priced in relation to its peer schools. Secondly, the Board of Regents didn't increase tuition as a response to others doing the same thing; rather, those colleges with a similar endowment to St. Olaf are forced to increase tuition because of market trends.

The cost for St. Olaf to function in the 2007-2008 school year is $100 million. Next year, costs will increase by $10 million. Although the letter doesn't explore specific reasons for the increase, Anderson elaborated on concrete reasons for the increase.

First, the price of oil as well as utility costs continues to increase. Second, St. Olaf is engaged in an effort to bring faculty salaries in line with national norms. Otherwise, the College fears that it will not be able to attract the top-notch teaching talent Oles demand. Finally, St. Olaf has engaged in a number of expensive and ambitious construction projects, including the state-of-the-art "Regents' Hall of Natural Sciences." The College has taken on significant debt in order to fund these building projects, and Anderson argues that keeping tuition down by assuming more debt is not financially prudent. Once built, increased maintenance costs are a significant burden as well.

Clearly, running a small liberal arts college is not easy. As students, we all have certain expectations. Our costs continue to increase because students and faculty have increasing (and often justified) demands. However, this puts the College in a tough spot. Compared to other schools of our caliber, St. Olaf has a paltry endowment and is only able to put 10 percent of it toward the budget. Thus, 70 percent of our budget comes from tuition, making us very dependent upon our dollars. If we want to combat the rising cost of St. Olaf's tuition, we may have to take a hard look at our own expectations.

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