The comprehensive fee to attend Knox for 2019-20 will be $58,236, up 3.2 percent from 2018-19’s comprehensive fee of $56,424.
The 3.2 percent increase is exactly on par with the increase from the year prior. This, however, is still above the national average year-over-year increase of 2.3 percent, according to the College Board. Since the 2008-09 school year, Knox has raised its comprehensive fee by $21,003, a 56 percent increase.
During that time, there were years when the comprehensive fee increased by over 6 percent in one year. This year, by comparison, is low. According to Chief Financial Officer Jean Hall and Director of Admissions Paul Steenis, this is the lowest increase the college has seen since the 1970s. Compared to percentage increases from the mid- to late-00s, which topped off at 6.9 percent, it is a decrease in year-over-year increase
“I can tell you that 3.2 percent is the lowest in many years… I want to say it’s the lowest in over 30 years, in fact,” Steenis said.
Knox is not the only school raising its prices every year; this is a national issue. Even when adjusted for inflation, private nonprofit four-year colleges raised their comprehensive fee an average of 2.3 percent every year between 2008 and 2018. Public four-year universities have increased their comprehensive fee of 3.2 percent every year in the same time period, according to the College Board. In that regard, Knox is still increasing its comprehensive fee at a quicker rate than the average private college.
Hall considers the increase in tuition to be a product of first-world societies’ tendency for general costs to increase, which she says cannot be changed by individual efforts. The increase in cost allows Knox to be able to pay utilities and other services whose costs continue to rise.
“Just as you would have at your home, as I have at my home, the cost of utilities goes up, the cost of food, all costs rise, and colleges unfortunately are not immune from that, so we have to try to keep up with those rising costs,” Hall said. “So we can continue to provide the type of education that Knox provides, which is a great education, and educational opportunities that a lot of other schools don’t offer.”
For example, the cost of residential electricity in Illinois increased 4 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to Choose Energy. Nationwide, residential electricity prices increased by 34 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
Steenis mentioned that tuition increases contribute to a variety of rising costs for Knox employees, from labor and salaries to benefits and medical costs.
“Clearly people are the biggest piece of the cost of providing education. This is a people centered, people-oriented business. So the majority of the college’s budget goes to salaries and compensation and benefits and things like that.”
He says that an increase in cost of tuition is ‘required’ to be able to continue hiring highly qualified staff and faculty as well as keep up with the rising cost of goods and services.
When it comes to admissions, Knox does strategize where their “sticker price” will fall. Hall says that Knox compares itself to 18 or so other schools to which students cross-apply. These include private schools like Beloit, Augustana, Carleton and Grinnell, as well as public universities like University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the 2018-19 school year, Knox fell $1,620 below the median of all the comparable institutions’ total comprehensive fees.
“We’re certainly not going to be the highest, we’re not necessarily going to be the lowest, because some of them are public institutions, but we look to compare and see where we are and what they’ve historically done as well,” Hall said.
Steenis said that Knox is not need blind when looking to admit students, but mentioned that this is the case for most schools. Need-blindness refers to admissions policies that base their selections on merit and ability alone rather than paying mind to their financial abilities. Steenis said that financial capabilities are not a major factor, but are something to take note of when making decisions regarding admissions.
“There are very very few schools that claim to be need blind anymore, but the fact of the matter is, a student’s financial need is really not a factor– at least a notable factor– in terms of making admissions decisions at Knox. We are admitting students on the basis of their ability to come here and be successful from an academic perspective.”
Data from Chief Financial Officer Jean Hall and from the College Board. (Graphic by Michelle Dudley)
He acknowledges that a rise in tuition may negatively impact students’ ability to pay for a Knox education and, thus, would impact admissions numbers. However, he says that he takes into account that tuition may increase at a faster pace than family incomes, and wants to make sure that a Knox education maintains its accessibility.
“We’re committed to continue to make Knox affordable. Obviously if the comprehensive fee increases and families’ income stay relatively similar, then they’re gonna need more financial aid. So then as an institution we need to make more financial aid available to students to be able to make Knox affordable.”
Administration takes financial ability into account more when admitting international students, Steenis said. Since international students are not eligible for federal grants or loans, they need to be able to pay a higher percentage of tuition. While the amount they need to pay varies case by case, Steenis said that international students must be able to pay half of the comprehensive fee at minimum.
“So as we’re going through this process we want to make sure that students have the financial wherewithal, the financial resources to be able to afford a Knox education,” he said.
Making sure international students have the capabilities to pay goes above Knox’s power, since they need to be able to pay for a non-immigrant student visa.
“If they can’t afford it, the Department of Homeland Security is not gonna let them get a visa, they’re not gonna give them a student visa,” he said. “If they can’t get a student visa they’re not gonna be able to come.”
Although the comprehensive fee is divided into categories such as tuition, room and board, Hall says the money all goes into one “general operations” budget, which is then used to pay Knox’s bills as they come in.
“Because some years utilities might not go up a huge amount but something else may go up more than what we anticipated,” she said. “So when it goes into the general operations, some of that goes for faculty salaries, that kind of stuff, but we can use it where it’s needed most.”
Knox does currently have outstanding debt, as the administration discussed during the board of trustees briefing meeting. Hall says that this debt is due to larger projects, such as the Whitcomb Art Center, and the current renovation of SMC. The college would rather take on prolonged debt for a prolonged project and spread the payments out than take a large chunk of money out of the unrestricted fund or the endowment.
“Our goal is to whittle that down so the endowment and other investments can continue to grow, cause you never know when something catastrophic might happen years down the road and you want the money to be there for that,” Hall said. “It’s kind of like your savings account.”
Steenis added that, with the elimination of the Perkins Loan program, which was designed to offer loans to the highest need students, more money needs to be offered to students. He said that the loan was founded after World War II to help veterans pay for their education, and has been offered annually until this year.
“We actually made the decision that we need to be able to put more institutional grant dollars, more institutional money on the table for students who otherwise would have been eligible for these loans,” he said. “So the students aren’t sitting there with a big gap.”