Tuition raised 5.9 percent

A top-quality liberal arts education comes at a price, and that price tag is growing. Next year, tuition at Williams will be $35,750 – a 5.9 percent increase from last year’s total of $33,640.

Last week, the College sent letters to students and parents, notifying them of the raise in comprehensive fees. This increase “leaves our total fees among the lowest of the most selective colleges and universities in the country and, combined with endowment income and gifts to the College, will enable us to continue to provide an education of the highest quality,” the letter from President Schapiro read.

“I believe that the education we offer is second to none and I know that our total fee is well within the range of our competitors,” Schapiro told the Record. “It’s also the case that in recent years we have made Williams even more affordable for financial aid students by reducing loan expectations and increasing grants.”

When setting fees for each upcoming school year, the College considers the median family income among the different income quintiles in the United States. On average, a family in the top income quintile is expected to spend 20 percent of its income on tuition each year.

Through its policies on tuition and financial aid, the College tries to offer a more affordable package to households in lower quintiles so that these families pay a lower percentage of their annual incomes.

Currently, an estimated 45 to 55 percent of students qualify for financial aid. The letter encouraged those who think they may qualify for the first time to contact the financial aid office.

“With financial aid, families in lower incomes quintiles pay less in dollar terms, as a ratio of the full sticker prices and as a share of family incomes,” said Cappy Hill, provost of the College. “The objective is to make sure that talented students don’t go elsewhere because of the cost of a Williams education.”

“The College has the twin goals of providing the highest quality education possible and making that education affordable for all admitted students,” Schapiro said. “The two are intertwined because the quality of education would be diminished if the only students who could attend were those from families who could pay the full fees.”

The College also compares itself with other schools in the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) when considering charge rates. This group of 31 colleges and universities includes the Ivy League schools, some non-Ivy League universities and other co-ed liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Swarthmore and Pomona.

The school with the highest cost of tuition for the 2002-03 school year was Brown University at $36,356, while the lowest was Rice at $24,962.

As of right now, only about half of the COFHE institutions have announced their rates for next year (2003-2004), but the average percent increase so far among those 15 schools is 5.1 percent. Last year (2002-2003), the average peer increase was 4.7 percent, compared to the College’s own 3.9 percent increase.

Currently, the College’s total student charges sit third from the bottom of this group and remain about $2,000 below the median. “We expect to be third lowest again next year,” said Richard Myers, associate provost and director of budgets.

In calculating the amount of tuition, the College must also consider the cost of educating each student. In 2001-02, the estimated cost per undergraduate was $55,000. Myers expects this figure to fall in the $58,000 to $59,000 range for the current school year and anticipates the cost exceeding $60,000 for the 2003-2004 school year.

Other factors such as the state of the economy and the rate of inflation will naturally affect tuition costs as well. The increase of fees for 2002-03 was actually the first in three years where the price went up more than the rate of inflation. The College has not always increased the cost each year – in 2000–2001, tuition was not raised at all. “The state of the economy will affect which students are on financial aid and how much financial aid individual families receive,” Hill said.

And with the advent of numerous construction projects, including the new student center, the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance and the Stetson and Sawyer renovations, the size of the endowment and gifts also weigh into financial decisions.

“Construction projects affect tuition less than you might think because they’re paid for through a combination of designated gifts and long-term financing,” Schapiro said.

“The size of the endowment and gifts have an impact on our new construction projects, but neither has a strong, direct impact on our tuition policy,” Hill said. “There is some relationship, in that if our endowment was performing outstandingly, we’d have less need to rely on tuition revenues to cover some of our costs. In our financial plan, however, we count on both tuition dollars and endowment and gift income to cover our spending plans in the future.”

In last week’s letter to students, Schapiro mentioned that he had thanked parents “for the sacrifices they make to provide you a Williams education.” And while it appears that some should be prepared to make more sacrifices in the future, Hill indicates that the College will continue working towards a balance between cost and a quality education.

“I would expect tuition to go up at about the same rate as family incomes at the high end of the income distribution in the United States,” Hill said. “And, our financial aid policies will make sure that lower income families can continue to afford sending their children to Williams.”

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