Tuition and Fees to Exceed $60,000
Issue   |   Wed, 03/26/2014 - 00:51
College Hall
Photography Editor Olivia Tarantino '15
College Hall is home to the office of Chief Financial Officer Kevin Weinman, who said this week that the increase in tuition fees reflects the rising cost of educating an Amherst student.

The College’s comprehensive fee will surpass $60,000 for the first time next year, President Biddy Martin announced last week.

The comprehensive fee — which consists of tuition, room and board — will be $60,400, a 4.2 percent increase from this year’s fee $57,970. Tuition will rise from the current price of $45,800 to $47,720. Room and board will increase from $12,170 to $12,680.

Despite the increasing cost, the College is still committed to meeting the full calculated need of students and will change very little in its financial aid policy. Admissions will still remain need-blind, and financial aid packages will still mainly consist of grants and scholarships. Students currently receiving financial aid from the college should not expect to see dramatic changes to expected family or student contributions for the next year unless their financial situation changes.

“Amherst’s stellar financial aid program allows us to assess families as we always have: based on their individual circumstances,” stated Dean of Financial Aid Gail Holt. “If families are experiencing a steady state in terms of their financial circumstances, then they can expect their financial contribution to be similar.”

It is possible that some students who currently pay full price may be eligible for financial aid when the fee rises next year. As long as students complete an application for financial aid, they will be individually assessed the amount of aid needed.

“We know that families who are paying the sticker price or close to sticker price are sacrificing a whole lot,” Holt said. “We’re very sensitive to that…[and we] really put a lot of thought and effort to make sure that any increase [in comprehensive fees] is used to benefit all students.”

Currently 60 percent of the student body receives some amount of financial aid. The average student at Amherst receives $46,809 in aid, $1,800 of which comes from work study. This year, the College has awarded approximately $44 million in aid, with $12 million from the endowment and $32 from a mixture of unrestricted funds in the endowment, donations and tuition revenues.

Amherst students have also been able to graduate with less debt than the average college student. According to Dean Holt, of the class of 2013, 29 percent of students borrowed at some point during their Amherst careers with the average per-borrower cumulative principal being $15,466. In comparison, a 2013 study conducted by Fidelity Investments stated that 70 percent of 2013 graduates nationally graduate with some college-related debt, averaging at $35,200 per student.

Of this year’s $1.823 billion endowment, one-sixth of it, or around $300 million, is restricted to financial aid.

The actual price of an Amherst education is $89,365. However, due to gifts from alumni and parents and earnings from the endowment, the comprehensive fee is discounted by 44 percent.

According to Tom Parker, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, freezing the comprehensive fee to the current price would unsustainably deplete the endowment.

“What we think about ourselves as is a perpetual institution,” Parker said. “The Board of Trustees can’t just think about next year, they need to think about 25 years from now, 50 years from now.”

Because of Amherst’s large endowment and generous financial aid policy, net tuition revenue at Amherst is lower compared to other comparable schools. Although net tuition revenue has risen, it is increasing at a lower rate than the increase in scholarship aid per student.

Over the years, funding for the College’s budget has increasingly depended on the endowment compared to revenues generated by comprehensive fees. In 1989, the endowment only provided a third of Amherst’s expenses and net revenues from comprehensive fees covered nearly half. By 2013, this statistic has flipped, with endowment funding half of the budget and comprehensive fees covering around one-third.

The increase in the comprehensive fee is intended to reflect the overall growing cost of higher education. According to Chief Financial Officer Kevin Weinman, the 4.2 percent increase will be used towards enrolling and educating talented students regardless of economic circumstances, recruiting faculty, improving student life on campus and enhancing opportunities for learning and networking.

Given that 60 percent of Amherst’s spending goes to employee salaries and benefits, the increase in price will account for modest wage increases and rising health benefit costs. Despite improved energy efficiency, the College is also expecting increases in fuel costs for the next year.

“Lastly, we do expect some targeted additional investments in certain important areas such as student life and safety,” Weinman said in an email.

Although projections for future tuition rates are difficult to calculate, the Board of Trustees estimates future comprehensive fees based on assumptions regarding the growth of the endowment, donations and tuition. However, these estimates are always reviewed in light of changing economic circumstances.

The cost of an Amherst education has been increasing at rates between 3 to 6 percent for the past 10 years. In the years immediately after the recession in 2008, the rate of increase had slowed until peaking in 2011. Since 2011, the growth rate has been declining from 5 percent that year to the current rate of 4.2 percent.

Amherst College’s comprehensive fee is comparable to that of other NESCAC colleges. For the 2014-2015 academic year, Williams’s fee will be $60,790, while Bates and Tufts expect to charge $60,720 and $61,100, respectively.

Ethan Corey (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/26/2014 - 12:07

Nice article. I'm just kind of laughing because I wrote almost the exact same article two years ago when tuition was $5,000 less than it is now. It's frustrating to see that nobody up top really seems concerned about doing something about high tuition costs, which, even with generous financial aid, still end up pushing many out of the market for college education or forcing people to choose less expensive schools instead of reaching their full potential.