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Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

Tuition hikes necessitate institutional transparency

Last week, Middlebury announced a 4.5% tuition increase for the 2022–23 school year, bringing the total price tag to $79,800. This is a significant increase compared to last year’s 2.5% increase and increases in previous years that hovered around 3%

Tuition increases are not new or unexpected. However, we ask that this price tag be accompanied by comprehensive, accessible information regarding exactly how this money will be used. If Middlebury expects students to pay more, it makes sense that we as students can expect to know where our money is going. 

This sentiment was expressed by the Middlebury Open the Books Campaign, which surfaced last spring. They wrote in an op-ed for The Campus that “the details of what gets funded — in terms of not only individual salaries but also departments and programs, stock investments and even clubs or student programming — are necessary to reach a community-driven, ethically sound future.” 

Though Middlebury releases their financial statements as the bare minimum of what is legally required of them as a 501(c)(3), this information is utterly unintelligible to anyone without an accounting degree. Likewise, these do not provide specific insight into the financial impact of tuition hikes. 

It is important to note that the college notified parents but did not explicitly update students about the 4.5% increase. We feel that this is a critical oversight that neglects how this increase will affect students and implies that parents are the sole providers of tuition for students — a situation that is not necessarily true for all Middlebury students. This is especially pertinent in regard to financial aid. Middlebury provides financial aid packages that are intended to make up the gap between tuition and estimated family contribution — the amount that you and your family is expected to be able to pay for tuition. While it is true that the estimated family contribution does not change when tuition increases, such increases can have other effects on students. For example, financial aid packages include a combination of loans, grants, and work-study, and only one component — grants — are monies which students do not have to pay back or work for. As the financial aid package increases as tuition increases, the amount of loans will also likely increase, which could increase the financial burden of Middlebury tuition. Estimated family contribution is also a calculation that may not reflect the actual capacity of a family to pay each year; for example, the calculation tends to assume that one or both parents are willing to pay tuition. In these cases, tuition increases can still have tangible effects on students and families. 

Beyond transparency, we hope that the college’s financial priorities following a tuition increase will reflect the needs of all members of the college community — such as committing to and implementing competitive compensation for employees and supporting equity and inclusion on campus. For example, we know that some peer institutions in the NESCAC have eliminated loans from their financial aid packages.

Ultimately, it’s understandable that students — present and future — would be taken aback and frustrated by a nearly eighty-thousand dollar sticker price that will almost certainly continue to spike. The bare minimum Middlebury can do is to be transparent about what they’re doing with it.