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Tuition increase explained

Concordia students will see a tuition increase of almost $2,000 for the 2013-2014 academic year, prompting many to call attention to the cost of higher education in a post-recession world. Comprehensive fees for next year will be $39,974, an increase of $2,114 from the current year.

Students are feeling the money crunch. Samantha Scaman, a sophomore education major, called her parents after receiving the email announcing the tuition increase.

“I asked my parents how we were going to deal with it,” Scaman said. They decided that the extra tuition costs will be added to the student loans she has already taken out. Scaman has put all of her student loans in her name, which she will work to pay off after graduation.

As the college as a whole faces rising costs, it has no choice but to pass those costs on to the students, according to William Craft, president of the college. Concordia has seen rising costs in areas such as utility fees, health insurance plans, and technology.

Increased tuition costs, however, do not just go toward projects in those areas. Concordia is expanding and plans on creating more programs for students, such as expanded undergraduate research opportunities and added global learning programs. Concordia has used money from previous tuition increases to develop new things for the college, such as the Offutt School of Business as well as the Faith and Leadership concentration.

“We’re not simply charging more for the same thing,” Craft said.

Matt Dymoke, student body vice president-elect, stressed the importance of tuition increases in funding services students have come to expect.

“Be it new options for facility hours, for sustainability efforts, things like that—money is needed,” Dymoke said. “Student needs wouldn’t be able to be met without increased tuition.”

Increased costs are daunting to current and prospective students alike. Students are especially cognizant of the debt they are taking on in a post-recession economic climate.

Scaman’s family is especially aware of their debt load as Scaman’s brother begins his freshman year of college next year. The family will have two years in which both children are enrolled in college. Steve Schuetz, vice president of enrollment, is aware of this common situation.

“Price is at the top of a lot of folks’ minds,” Schuetz said.

Prospective students are paying more attention to the price of the various institutions they are looking at than they have in the past, according to Schuetz.

Recovery from the economic collapse of 2008 is still underway, and families are feeling pressure to stay out of debt as much as possible. While few students end up paying the full amount, a sticker price of almost $40,000 a year is enough to make families of prospective students pause before making a definitive decision.

“Debt has become a dirty word with families,” Schuetz said.

Increases tuition fees is not unique to Concordia. A 2012 report by College Board states that the average cost for private non-profit four-year institutions rose by $1,173 from 2011 to 2012—a 4.2 percent raise. Average total charges for institutions in this category are $39,518, according to the study.

While Concordia’s sticker price is close to $40,000 a year, most students do not pay that amount. Concordia offers financial aid that is both merit-based as well as need-based. This aid is applied in addition to federal and state grants.

Financial aid can make tuition increases a lot less stressful for some students. According to Dymoke, his general financial aid package changes each year, making it so he has paid about the same amount annually, despite tuition increases.

Both Craft and Schuetz stressed that the institution aims to make Concordia’s education reasonably priced and accessible to students. In addition to providing merit- and need-based financial aid, the college also lobbies state legislatures and the governor to encourage them to defray costs, according to Craft. Concordia is a member of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group that lobbies in Washington D.C. on behalf of higher education.

Schuetz also said that between 20 and 25 percent of Concordia students are eligible for Pell Grants, which are federal grants given to college students who can demonstrate a significant financial need. This rate is on the high end for liberal arts colleges in the upper Midwest.

Concordia remains the least expensive private college in the area. Currently the comprehensive fee for St. Olaf is set at $48,650, Gustavus Adolphus’s at $46,090 and Luther College’s at $43,940.

As costs creep higher and higher, private colleges like Concordia must focus on what makes a liberal arts education distinctive. Students have much cheaper options, such as public universities and community colleges.

While these pose a threat to liberal arts institutions in a time when students are so concerned with debt, Schuetz said that Concordia’s application numbers are ahead of where they were last year. Admissions won’t definitively know the number of the incoming freshman class until May or June.

Prospective students weigh the costs of an education against the benefits they will reap from it, according to Schuetz. These students take into consideration the inherent differences between liberal arts colleges and institutions that are more focused on career training.

Craft stressed the importance of a liberal arts education for creating engaged students who have a broad knowledge base. Dymoke echoed these sentiments.

“I think a liberal arts education better prepares you for the world,” he said. “I’ve taken classes in math and science that teach completely different things than what I learn in my education courses, and I see value in those classes. It makes you branch out, and it allows you to interact with people very different from yourself.”

Craft stated that Concordia prepares students with analytical problem solving skills, the ability to communicate in compelling ways and an intellectual imagination. Craft also emphasized strong graduate study and job placement rates as benefits of a Concordia education.

“We want you to be active, thoughtful citizens,” Craft said. “We want your individual lives to flourish.”

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