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Middlebury College Plans to Place Ceiling on Tuition Hikes

February 16, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

The president of Middlebury College has introduced a plan that would cap the school's annual comprehensive cost increases at 1 percentage point above inflation, a proposal that would slow increases that have been running well above and independent of changes in the Consumer Price Index. The school's board is expected to approve the proposal prior to planning its budgets for the next year.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the decision to come up with a proposal for a tuition increase cap came when administrators started talking a hard look at the ever-growing cost of a liberal arts degree. At Middlebury, the "comprehensive fee" of an education there - tuition, room and board - has reached past the $50,000 per year mark. And despite a record number of students applying to the school, administrators felt they should be forward-thinking rather than taking advantage of the current windfall of applicants. Those numbers won't keep up forever, after all. In a speech at the college on Friday, the school's president, Ronald D. Liebowitz, said there would eventually "be a price point at which even the most affluent of families will question their investment; the sooner we are able to reduce our fee increases the better."

A number of schools have tried to impose tuition freezes in the past, only to revert back to their old ways when budgets tightened. Princeton University tried in 2007; Williams College tried in 2000. Middlebury administrators, however, hope their cap is sustainable for the long term. Middlebury's increase for the current 2009-10 year was 3.2 percent, 3 points above inflation. The average annual increase for private, four-year colleges is 4.4 percent, according to the College Board. Critics of the proposal worry that cuts will come from elsewhere to make up the funds lost by the cap; the school loses about $900,000 for each percentage point increase it doesn't make. In the Inside Higher Ed article, Liebowitz said he saw revenue potential in the school's unique programming, and that the move could make the college even more desirable to applicants also applying to private colleges who are not considering tuition increase caps.

In 2008, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. In 2009, 58 did, making $50,000 the new norm. Still, it could be worse. Tuition and fees increased by an average of 4.3 percent at private colleges and universities nationwide for the 2009-2010 academic year, according to data from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Those figures, although much higher than the rate of inflation, were still lower than previous averages. In fact, those tuition increases were the lowest they have been in 37 years, despite the struggling economy. On average, schools also allocated 9 percent more to college scholarships and grants for 2009-2010 than the previous academic year.


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