Treasurer Peter Shea cites the College’s overall high expenses as the cause of the fee increase. “There isn’t any one thing that accounts for this year’s increase. Every year the College faces the same or similar pressures. The type of education that Amherst provides (residential, small classes taught by professors rather than grad students, extensive facilities and student services, etc.) is very expensive, over $65,000 per student,” he said. “The comprehensive fee only covers about 55 percent of the operating budget. Gifts to the College and income from the endowment provide the other resources needed for the budget.”
According to Marx, throughout each year the College investigates ways to save money. “This year’s example of that would be a strenuous effort over many months to find a way to contain the future increases in the costs of health insurance for the faculty and staff,” he said. “[It] is not an easy process to go through, but is one we went through in part because we understood that further exposure on that front might have an effect on future needs to raise tuition.”
This year, the trustees voted to require College employees with individual insurance coverage to pay 20 percent of the cost of their health insurance premium. Additionally, the College will no longer reimburse retired faculty members for their Medicare Part B fees.
“So we are willing, when we can, to act to reduce possible future tuition increases,” said Marx.
Shea also explained that professor salaries and benefits as well as financial aid for students account for a significant portion of the College’s operating budget. When those costs increase the comprehensive fee must follow.
“Over 50 percent of the operating budget is used for salaries and benefits for faculty and other employees. Providing meaningful salary increases for those individuals and keeping up with the cost of benefits, especially health insurance, results in cost increases greater than inflation,” he said. “Technology, library books and utilities have all increased at rates that exceed general inflation for many years. Another 18 percent of the budget is dedicated to financial aid.”
According to Shea, financial aid will change with the increase in the comprehensive fee. “The College is committed to meeting the financial need of all students that attend Amherst,” said Shea. “The College needs to increase the comprehensive fee to help meet these expenses. The comprehensive fee has increased every year for many, many years for the very reasons [that I have noted].”
Due to those growing expenses, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Tom Parker said that he is not surprised by the fee increase. “[The increase is in] the range of what I had expected given the cost of higher education,” he said.
Director of Financial Aid Joe Case echoed Parker. “The increase is not unexpected,” said Case. “It is an annual ritual for most institutions.”
Parker believes that the increase will not affect the College’s ability to admit the most qualified students regardless of need. “In financial aid we will remain need blind. [The fee increase] will also increase the financial aid budget,” said Parker. “Those receiving financial aid will now receive an increase in financial aid that is proportional to the tuition increase.”
Case said the office of financial aid is prepared to counteract the fee increase with more financial aid assistance. “The financial aid budget is adjusted annually for the projected need of students. The office expects to make some compensation for the fee increase,” said Case. “Forty-eight percent of students receive scholarship assistance from the College. I expect that number to be about the same next year.”
Marx explained that the fee increase will actually help to provide financial aid money for students. “Half of the students at this College are on financial aid, and the half of the students who are paying the full official price of the College are still being subsidized,” he said. “The tuition increase, in part, helps to cover our costs, but also to cover the costs of those who can’t afford to pay for it. It has a redistributive element to it.”
The increased fee will also enlarge the number of families who are eligible for financial aid. “[The higher fee] will make some families, who were not eligible before, now eligible for financial aid,” said Parker.
In the past Parker has not noticed a decrease in the number of applicants due to the fee increase. However, if that were to happen in the future, Parker thinks that appropriate action would be taken to try to limit that effect. “If at some point tuition goes up and applications go down and there were indications that there was a price resistance, we would take that into account,” said Parker. “There have not yet been any early indications of that.”
The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that other local colleges also plan to increase their fees for the 2004-05 academic year. Hampshire College will raise its fee 5.5 percent, from $36,521 to $38,531. “Hampshire’s annual increase has been consistently around 5.4 or 5.5 percent, kept as low as possible by [the] trustee[s],” Hampshire’s Director of Communications Elaine Thomas told the Gazette. Smith College will raise its fee to $38,680, a five percent increase. According to the Gazette, Mount Holyoke College will raise its fee 5.9 percent to $39,830.