President Teresa Amott addressed the 5.9 percent rise in tuition and other measures taken to address the college’s budget deficit during an open forum held Tuesday in response to a recent vocalization of student concerns.
Student Senate President senior Michael Gasparro opened the forum by announcing that the impetus for the meeting was demonstrated student concerns about the budget and that he was pleased about the high turnout. Gasparro then opened the floor to Amott.
During the presentation, Amott stressed the universality of budget problems among institutions of higher education as the costs of providing education increases.
“What we’re doing is really not unique to Knox; it is painful, it’s not great. I can assure you I would rather be sitting up here doing silly goofy toasts to the 175th anniversary but instead, you know, we’re having a meeting about a painful thing, but it is happening all over the country,” Amott said.
Tuition must be raised in order to compensate for a $1.2 million budget shortfall and the need to improve several aspects of the college, Amott said. Rising costs and waning government financial assistance have contributed to the shortfall as well.
Amott pointed to the need to grow the endowment, make investments and add staff, services and programs to underfunded resources like the Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development. She also emphasized the importance of maintaining the 12:1 faculty-to-student ratio, an area in which the college is unwilling to make a “critical cut.”
The college began the fiscal year with 1.8 percent of the budget unaccounted for, leaving 3.6 million as the deficit amount. Up to this point, according to Amott, of the total deficit amount $750,000 has been cut followin a line by line reviews of the budget, 1.7 has been taken out of the endowment and 1.2 million must be found by the end of the fiscal year.
One temporary solution that has been recently discussed is the cutting of retirement benefits for faculty and staff until the summer of 2014, which Amott said is preferable to salary cuts because it reduces the immediate impact on faculty and staff in terms of handling necessary expenses.
Amott pointed to the ongoing capital campaign, which currently remains in its early stages, as the long-term plan for growing the endowment and easing the college’s budgetary difficulties.
Following the presentation, during which Amott detailed the specific factors of the college’s financial situation that have contributed to the rise in tuition and other actions, student questions were fielded.
Student concerns revolved around financial aid, including whether budget circumstance, would warrant Knox moving away from a need-blind admissions process.
Amott responded by saying that while Knox is need-blind during the admissions process, Knox does not always meet full demonstrated need. According to Amott, very few schools remain with need-blind admissions, although no proposition has been brought to the Board of Trustees to change admissions standards at Knox.
Another student asked about whether financial aid would adjust to compensate for the rise in tuition costs, especially concerning students who are paying their own way through college.
Director of Financial Aid Ann Brill responded in saying, “It’s a very individualized process by which we evaluate your financial aid situation each year … typically, our rule of thumb is that if the financial need of the family goes up, we’ll typically help offset that increase … the same rule would apply for the independent student.”
Amott suggested that given the difficulty of assessing individual student concerns regarding their financial aid packages, students should utilize the Office of Financial Aid for specific questions.
“You can go and request a reconsideration. This happens all the time,” Amott said in response to students who believed their need was assessed incorrectly. “What we are saying is that we’re not going to be able to meet the full amount of the increase. Some portion of it may fall on you, and I understand that some people may find that completely unacceptable, but I just have to say we have 1,400 students here, and somehow we have to manage to stretch the aid we have in as equitable a manner as we can across a number of people who have significant need.”
“As savvy as we all are about the FAFSA and this, that and the other, these are complex regulations … circumstances may change your family’s income in ways that are not reflected on the FAFSA,” Amott said.
Other students diverted from the tuition issue, instead asking about the investments Knox has been making from the endowment. The returns of these investments are rolled into the budget and used to run the college.
“It’s rarely public knowledge or transparent … that would be a Board decision … I don’t have an objection to making it transparent … but it’s not a decision I can make,” Amott said.
One of the main ways of growing tuition revenue, appart from increasing the comprehensive fee from $44,717 to $47,352, includes growing the student body from 1,400 to 1,600 students by 2016.
In growing the student body, new faculty will need to be added. Amott cited two factors that play into the process, the first of which is enrollment demand for certain departments, the other “areas of interesting curricular change.”
“The recent history of the college is actually instructive in a lot of ways because things were going very well as they brought the endowment spending rate down,” Amott said. “They had very modest tuition increases, but they were growing the student body. We ran into trouble when we stopped growing.”
In response to concerns that the college is seeking full pay students exclusively, Amott said that, “Our forecasts are that we add students exactly like you, that we do not change the composition of the student body … we just have more of you.”