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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Fee Hike A Necessary Climb

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Last Saturday the Middlebury College Board of Trustees set the 2002-2003 comprehensive fee at $35,900, a 4.66 percent increase over the current year's figure. The Comprehensive Fee Committee, part of the Student Government Association (SGA), presented a recommendation to the Board of $35,905 on Friday, Feb. 15. We hope this article will help students understand where this fee increase comes from and why we feel it is necessary.

The Committee

Few colleges have a counterpart to Middlebury's Comprehensive Fee Committee. At Middlebury, this Committee has been in existence for over a decade, recommending a comprehensive fee to the Trustees each year. To prepare the College budget, our group meets with faculty, staff and students, just as the College Budgeting Office does each spring. This year the process was especially difficult, given the recent economic downturn and the College's ambitious construction plans. Nevertheless, we buckled down, spoke with numerous campus administrators and arrived at a recommendation that was the closest, in the history of the Committee, to that of the administration.

Our Proposal

This year our Committee adopted a different approach to our task. We set a goal not to exceed last year's 4.68 percent increase in the fee and worked to create a College budget that fit within this parameter. In order to do this, the Committee chose to recommend an increase in the funding drawn from the College's endowment. Ideally, spending out of the endowment should not exceed 5 percent of its total value, a rule which helps balance the current budgetary needs future considerations. In order to keep the comprehensive fee at a manageable level, the College rightly chose to temporarily change that spending rate to 6.7 percent for the '02-03 year, an increase of $8 million over the 5 percent limit. Without this additional support from the endowment next year's comprehensive fee would grow to over $40,000 per student.

Student Initiatives

In the past, the Trustees have seriously considered the student initiatives presented by our committee. This year, in addition to our budget proposal, we brought to the Trustees a series of transportation, academic and social initiatives, all endorsed by the SGA this January. We proposed improvements in reliability and availability of both on-campus transportation and the new off-campus shuttle to the Burlington International Airport. We encouraged the Trustees to support students' internships and to investigate the addition of an African-American studies department and major. In light of the recent 'lockdown', we advocated maximizing student convenience and safety and suggested the implementation of a comprehensive dorm security system. Finally, we asked the administration to rethink its proposed dining logistics for the fall.

Why Increase the Fee?

It is a well known fact that prices rise over time. It is also clear that the costs incurred by institutions of higher education increase at a rate higher than inflation. This greater rate of increase is due to the make-up of the College's budget. Since the College's operation is very labor intensive, over 65 percent of the budget goes towards paying faculty and staff salaries and benefits. In order to keep Middlebury competitive in the local and regional labor markets, salaries will always increase. Other prices, including costs of library materials and food also rise faster than the national average. Middlebury's fee increase reflects these price increases as well as a desire to improve the quality of education and campus facilities.

Middlebury's 2002-2003 comprehensive fee appears to be in line with that of the College's peer institutions. Dartmouth just announced a fee of $35,988 and other Middlebury competitors are expected to choose fees in the same ballpark.

Why Have a 'Comprehensive Fee?'

So, why have a comprehensive fee at all? The alternative is to separate out different fees so students pay for access to the fitness center, pay to participate in a varsity sport, pay for parking and pay separately for room and board. The comprehensive fee is what, in many ways, makes Middlebury such a special place. It is an "equalizer." It gives all students access to the same opportunities and breaks down socio-economic divides, promoting greater interaction on campus. With a comprehensive fee, everyone can eat the same number of meals, work out at the same gym and type their papers in the same computer lab. There are no add-on fees for use of these facilities. The best rooms do not go to those students who can afford to pay more and you do not pay an additional fee to live in a single rather than a triple. In fact, research has shown that the incidence of eating disorders are higher at colleges where students can choose to save money by eating fewer meals.

If you are interested in College finances we encourage you to get involved. Please direct any questions to the Committee through your SGA representative. We encourage you to apply to our Committee early next fall.

The SGA Comprehensive Fee Committee is comprised of Chair Kaia Laursen '02, Christopher White '02, Martin Wesolowski '03, Andrew Martel '04 and Ivan Hernandez '04.