Board approves FY '09 budget, sets tuition rates

Board approves FY '09 budget, sets tuition rates

Tuition rates will increase 5.9 percent for day undergraduate students and for most graduate students beginning this summer, the St. Thomas Board of Trustees has decided.

The board approved the increases Feb. 21 as part of the university’s 2008-2009 budget, which also calls for a 4 percent increase in overall funding for the faculty-staff salary pool.

Day undergraduate tuition of $27,328, when combined with a 4 percent increase in room rates, a 3.5 percent increase in board rates, and technology and student activity fees totaling $494, will result in a comprehensive fee of $35,434 for incoming freshmen. That will be a 5.5 percent increase over this year's comprehensive fee of $33,586. (See tables for details.)

The new day undergraduate tuition rate of $854 per credit will cover all courses except those in business and quantitative methods-computer science, which will be $896.50 per credit, or 5 percent higher than other courses.

Students enrolled in the Undergraduate Evening Program will face tuition increases of about 20 percent as the final step in a two-year procedure to equalize all undergraduate rates.

Tuition rates for next year have not been set at all of Minnesota's private colleges, but St. Thomas expects to remain moderately priced for its undergraduate programs. This year, St. Thomas ranks ninth in tuition, ninth in room and board, and seventh in comprehensive fee among the 17 institutions that are members of the Minnesota Private College Council. (See table for details.)

Mark Vangsgard, vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer, said the funds generated from tuition increases will help pay for ongoing and special expenses necessary to continue to provide a high-quality education. Specifically, these expenses include:

  • Faculty and staff compensation. The overall salary budget will increase 4 percent. A decision has not been made on increases in the base rate and equity pools; this year, those increases were 3.5 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Faculty salary decisions will be made after annual reviews, and increases will be based on a general increase, merit pay and equity. Base rate salary increases for staff members reflect performance ratings during annual reviews, and any equity increases would be an effort to reduce market inequities in certain jobs.
  • Medical expenses. Expenses associated with the health benefit plan for employees are budgeted to increase 14 percent in 2009 on top of a projected increase of 12 to 14 percent this year.
  • Non-compensation expenses. Increases in this category will be tied to projected higher utilities costs, building repairs and maintenance, and principal and interest payments on the bonds sold over the years to pay for building construction.
  • Laboratory equipment. A major investment is planned for new equipment, primarily in science and engineering. Examples include a spectrophotometer, wave driver, microbalances, an inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer and basic instrumentation setups for physics. In addition, there will be a major rebuild on the Steinway piano in the Brady Educational Center.
  • Building projects. Major ongoing improvements will include a new roof on the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center, and Ireland Hall will become the last residence hall to receive a sprinkler system. The apartment building at 2151 Grand Ave., which has been leased to the public since St. Thomas purchased it in the late 1990s, will be added to the university’s Residence Life system and will be renovated this summer as a sophomore experience house for 43 students.
  • Parking ramp. Construction will begin in May on the Anderson Parking Facility, a 715-space, five-level ramp on the south campus. This project will be financed by a gift and bonds that the university will sell, and there will be little impact on the 2008-2009 operating budget.
  • Technology improvements. This summer, St. Thomas will begin a three- to four-year Digital Convergence Initiative. The multi-million dollar project is designed to upgrade network wiring in older buildings, increase capacity on the wired and wireless networks and provide a single converged network for voice, video and data, including the rollout of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). When completed, the new network will provide students, faculty and staff with greater Internet capacity and speed, access to greater online services for instruction and business functions, and increased security.
  • Library collections. St. Thomas expects to add 7,000 books over the next year. In the last five years, St. Thomas libraries have grown their electronic journal collection from 16,000 titles to more than 43,000. In addition, users have access to 239 electronic databases. Access to electronic content now comprises two thirds of the libraries’ resources budget.

St. Thomas also will continue to set aside substantial funds for financial aid. Ninety percent of undergraduate students receive financial aid through scholarships, grants, loans and campus employment. Even with rising tuition, St. Thomas subsidizes the education of all undergraduate students, including those who do not receive financial aid, because tuition covers only 80 percent of instruction-related expenses. The remaining 20 percent comes from gifts, endowment and investment earnings, and contributed services of religious personnel.

St. Thomas again expects to enroll a freshman class of 1,300 this fall. That would be the fourth straight year of freshman classes averaging above 1,300 – others were 1,314 in 2007, 1,299 in 2006 and a record 1,325 in 2005.

The larger freshmen classes have allowed St. Thomas to increase its operating income and – after making payments for building renovations, equipment, library books, and principal and interest on loans – will allow the university to increase its quasi-endowment fund, which is its savings account.

Vangsgard plans to hold two information sessions on next year’s budget – one for employees and one for students – within the next two weeks. The dates will be announced in a future issue of Bulletin Today.