Author: Derek Schlickeisen
Mandatory student fees will total $46,910 for the 2007-2008 academic year, according to a letter sent to parents on Tuesday. The higher total reflects a combined 5.25 percent increase over this year's mandatory fees, including a five percent increase in the comprehensive fee set by the College Trustees and a 50 percent increase in the student activities fee set by the Student Government Association (SGA).
Projections released by the SGA's Comprehensive Fee Committee predicted mandatory fees could near a combined $60,000 within the next half decade.
Though the increases exceed last year's rate of inflation by more than two percent, President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz said they are necessary to help the College meet its commitments to increasing faculty size and student aid as outlined in the Strategic Plan approved last May.
"Ours is primarily a human-intensive operation, with salaries and benefits representing more than half the annual budget," Liebowitz wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "To attract and retain the strongest faculty and staff, both expect raises that are at or above the inflation rate. Add that to our goal to replace loans with grants in our financial aid packages, and it is virtually impossible to simply increase by the rate of inflation."
Liebowitz's letter to parents explained that even with the comprehensive fee increases, their payments to the College still fell short of completely covering their children's education.
"We recognize that a Middlebury education is a major investment that families and the College make together to support the education of our students," the letter said. "Our fee covers just 63 percent of the actual cost, with the balance coming from our fundraising efforts and support from the College's endowment."
A number of students nonetheless expressed surprise at the College's rising costs.
"While it's important for Middlebury to keep pace with its peer schools, it still means the possibility of more debt for students who don't qualify for grants," said David Meschke '09.
Fellow sophomore Celey Schumer agreed, adding that she was concerned by some spending.
"I don't know exactly where every dollar the College spends goes, but when I see trips to campus for 100 of the 'most desirable' prospective students completely paid for, I have to wonder," she said.
In its budget proposal for fiscal 2008, the SGA's Comprehensive Fee Committee projects that total fees for students at the College could exceed $57,000 by 2012.
Once reported to families separately from the undergraduate comprehensive fee, the higher activities charge of $360 will net the SGA an additional $282,000 to support student organizations on campus. SGA Finance Committee Chair Amanda Goodwin '07 explained that the new funding will help restore funding to clubs that saw their budgets cut this year.
"The Student Activities Fund has not kept up with inflation for around 10 years," she explained. "So initially, that money will help increase funding for student organizations, at least to what they had received in the past."
In addition to financing student clubs, Goodwin said the SGA hopes to consolidate funding to deal with more requests than ever from groups like the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB), several Commons and the College's radio station for money to pay for high-profile concerts.
"While we supported these groups with substantial sums of money [this year], each group did not have enough to support acts with greater name recognition," she said. "By pooling resources and then increasing the amount available to all of these groups collectively, we could guarantee a wider selection of musical options on campus."
SGA President Alex Stanton '07 said it was student opinion that drove the 50 percent activities fee increase, after a survey on the allocation of activities funds conducted by the SGA in February. That survey suggested students were most interested in attracting more big-name performers to campus and throwing larger parties.
"Students have pretty clearly demonstrated that they want their student organizations to be funded at higher levels," he said. "There is a tendency to look at fee increases like this as a top-down imposition from a faceless organization. In this case, it's the opposite: overwhelming student demand drove the increases."
Though students were hopeful that the higher activity fees could be put to good use, they remained skeptical that money alone could improve the College's social scene.
"It depends on where the money goes," said David Meschke '09. "I feel like spending more money is the easiest way for the College to say it's doing something. But money can't change the liquor laws, so it's hard to see where we can improve. The best example I can think of is the new night club, so I hope they continue to support that."
Fellow sophomore Matt Mone shared Meschke's concerns.
"I can't think of any social problem on campus that money would fix," he said. "Commons parties just end up blowing a lot of money on pointless stuff."
College sets a $46,910 pricetag
Author: Derek Schlickeisen