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Comprehensive fee to increase by 4.25 percent, will exceed $70k for the first time

Carleton’s comprehensive fee will surpass $70,000 for the first time in the 2019-20 academic year. The fee, which includes three terms of tuition, room and board, and the CSA activity fee, is set to rise 4.25 percent from this year’s $68,844 to next year’s $71,769. This is the largest year-to-year tuition increase in the last seven years.

On Monday, March 8, Fred Rogers, the college’s Vice President and Treasurer, announced the fee increase in a letter to Carleton parents. In the letter, Rogers noted that “we also substantially increased our need-based financial aid budget (by 7.2 percent) to help a Carleton education remain accessible to all current and incoming students.” 

According to Matt Whited, Chair of the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC), expectations for family contributions are calculated independently of tuition increases. “I would expect that most students on aid will see Carleton cover part or all of any increases,” said Whited. 

“Because Carleton operates in this way and aims to continue recruiting students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the trustees have allowed the budget folks to increase the aid budget at a rate faster than the rate of tuition increase for the past few years,” Whited continued.

“The assumption is that as costs go up, the aid budget needs to be prepared to respond to an increasing need for assistance,” said Rodney Oto, Director of Student Financial Services. 

Along with affecting students on financial aid, this will also affect those full paying students who may be on the margin of not receiving financial aid.

“In terms of next year’s cost increase, we are very sensitive to the strain and struggle that it will place on our students and families,” said Oto.  

“Consequently, the College budget provides for a generous allocation to financial aid and we should be able to respond to the increased needs of aid recipients,” Oto continued. “Our aid program is still based on need with an intention of helping those who are not able to afford Carleton and can demonstrate a need for assistance.”

This increase stands out both in its size relative to prior tuition increases at Carleton, and in its relation to tuition increases at similar institutions. Carleton’s tuition increase for the 2019-2020 academic year is the second-highest relative tuition increase among peer institutions, led only by Wesleyan University, where tuition is increasing by 4.38 percent. 

The decision to increase the comprehensive fee by 4.25 percent  was largely based on the amount of staff turnover that Carleton has been experiencing in the last seven years, with the hope that the revenue increase will attract more faculty and ultimately decrease the amount of turnover, Rogers explained.

“We’re not making the kind of progress we would like to make on faculty salaries, competitively. There was a feeling that we needed to do a little more on salaries and financial aid so in the end the money is supporting a larger financial aid budget and a larger salary budget,’’ said Rogers. 

Carleton will be increasing the hourly wage for student workers to $10.75, with the hope that this will help students who do not qualify for financial aid but who may still be financially burdened with the increase. 

“It’s a burden for everybody. But it’s the Budget Committee’s continuing issue. It costs a lot to make the college be what it is,” said Rogers. “So it’s always this balance between: how do we keep the college affordable with both the fee and financial aid to support that fee—and keep the college as excellent as it is by attracting the kind of faculty and staff and program support and things that we have, which is the reason why people come here.” 

According to Rogers, the College hopes that the higher-than-average increase will not affect the wealth distribution of students on campus or the investment to middle class students.

As for the timing of the tuition increase, the school took the current economic outlook into consideration. 

“The committee felt that a good economy might be an appropriate time to address the need to be more competitive for faculty salaries and some staff salaries,” said Rogers. 

According to Luke Norquist, College Council Liaison at CSA, “The present but perhaps shortening window of a healthy economy presented an opportunity for budget committee to set a tuition fee that could meet increasing demands on salary and higher aspirations for financial aid.”

This tuition increase comes amid the larger context of rising costs of higher education throughout the country. In order to better contextualize this tuition increase, The Carletonian spoke with Economics Professor Nathan Grawe, Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Social Sciences, who researches the economics of higher education. 

“Not even a decade ago, Carleton’s policy was to increase aid at the same rate as the comprehensive fee,” said Grawe. “The administration successfully lobbied the board to relax that constraint so that we could make greater investments in financial aid.  The difference between increasing the aid budget at the same rate as the fee (4.25 percent) and increasing by 7.2 percent will allow Carleton to pursue greater socioeconomic diversity.”

According to Grawe, part of the reason for the increasing cost of education is the pace at which high-skill wages are rising in relation to inflation. 

“The cost of education has and is likely to continue to increase.  Education disproportionately utilizes labor in general and high-skill labor in particular.  Because wages for high-skill workers have increased at a rate that is faster than inflation, the price increases for education have also exceeded inflation,” said Grawe.

This is not to say that tuition for schools like Carleton is a bubble. “A bubble implies it isn’t worth its price,” Grawe explained. “The rising fees at private colleges have mirrored rising returns to higher education.  Holding a bachelor’s degree in general and a degree from a highly-selective institution like Carleton in particular continues to be a key to careers with higher compensation and lower unemployment rates.”

While Grawe raises concerns about changes in national demand for higher education, he is not too concerned about schools like Carleton.

“Between now and the end of the 2020s, my work suggests little net change in demand for highly-selective institutions,” Grawe added. 

“The reason I expect such schools to do better than the four-year college market as a whole is because the share of parents with college degrees is increasing, which increases the number of young people with demographic markers of attending the most prestigious schools.  With little net change in the number of students interested in an education like Carleton’s, we might not expect any change in competition.” 

Grawe’s research on changes in higher education demand over the next decade can be found in his recent book, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

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