Setting Tuition

I recently sent a letter to parents and families about Wellesley’s comprehensive fee increase for next year. I thought that readers of this blog might like to see this letter, too. I am proud of the fact that Wellesley is taking a new and strong position in this area. Despite our still severe economic problems, we decided on a tuition increase that was the lowest in 15 years.

Dear Parents,

At this time of year, I like to write to you with a report on the comprehensive fee for the next academic year. In the years following the economic crisis, and because of it, I have also used this opportunity to tell you something about our financial and budgetary issues.

I want to begin this year’s letter by assuring you that we remain firmly committed to providing an excellent liberal arts education that is also affordable. I am acutely aware that over the past several decades, the cost of college in our country has increased considerably more than inflation. Unless this trend is checked, college tuition in this country will soon outstrip the capacity of all but the most wealthy. All higher education institutions must carefully reconcile their expenses with the financial needs of the public. It is not an easy task. At Wellesley, the average net cost (allowing for financial aid) has increased at a slower, but still substantial, rate. With affordability forefront in our mind, we must also consider the yearly operating budget increases that are essential for the College to thrive and compete. Our goal, as always, is to continue to provide the exceptional opportunities that are fundamental to the Wellesley experience, while realistically understanding and considering the needs of our families. That is why we have made the deliberate decision not to allow the College’s fiscal challenges—stemming from the economic crisis—to drive the way we set tuition. This requires careful planning and consideration.

Wellesley College remains committed to continuing our investment in the key institutional priorities that define our educational model: preserving our core academic program, allowing for enhanced quality; maintaining our need-blind admission program; and continuing to support our financial aid policy of meeting the full need of students who qualify. These investments through the years have paid off handsomely, and have made us one of the best liberal arts colleges in the world. Indeed, our institutional priorities are expensive but essential tasks.

Given this context, the Board of Trustees voted at its January meeting to raise the 2011-12 comprehensive fee by the smallest percentage increase in more than 15 years: $1,300, or 2.5 percent, for a total of $53,250. In setting the fee, we carefully weighed a number of factors, including our institutional priorities, the College’s financial position, and the current economic conditions that might affect families’ ability to meet the costs. This level of tuition increase will enable Wellesley to continue to invest wisely to support our institutional priorities and simultaneously respond to the financial concerns of Wellesley students and their families.

As you know, tuition is just one source—albeit an important one—of our revenue. Like many colleges, we also fund a substantial portion of our annual operating budget from our endowment. Wellesley continues to experience some challenges from the decline of the endowment in 2008-09. The external markets have begun to show positive signs, but the College’s five-year financial planning model indicates operating budget deficits through fiscal year 2016. We have balanced next year’s budget, as we do every year, thanks to the continuing internal planning efforts to manage prudently the College’s spending and priorities.

I recognize and appreciate the important decision you and your daughter made in selecting Wellesley College and to be a part of our wonderfully vibrant and diverse community. You value the importance of an exceptional liberal arts education, and we remain committed to providing such an education for future generations of bright, talented, deserving young women, all of whom will make a needed difference in the world.