Board approves FY08 budget, sets tuition rates

After day undergraduate tuition increases of 6.7 percent and 6.5 percent in the last two years, the St. Thomas Board of Trustees has approved a lower tuition increase of 5.9 percent beginning this summer.

The board approved the increase Feb. 22 as part of the university’s 2007-2008 budget, which also calls for tuition increases between 5.8 and 6 percent for most graduate students and a 4 percent increase in overall funding for the faculty-staff salary pool.

Day undergraduate tuition of $25,808, when combined with a 4 percent increase in room rates, a 2 percent increase in board rates and technology and student activity fees totaling $466, will result in a comprehensive fee of $33,586 for incoming freshmen. That will be a 5.6 percent increase over this year’s comprehensive fee of $31,810. (See tables for details.)

The new day undergraduate tuition rates of $806.50 per credit will cover all courses except those in business and quantitative methods-computer science, which will be $846.50 per credit, or 5 percent higher.

Students enrolled in the Undergraduate Evening Program will continue to pay lower tuition rates of $750 per credit for business and computer science courses and $710.50 per credit for other courses. The new evening rates will be about 15 percent higher than this year’s rates because the university intends to equalize all undergraduate rates over the next two years.

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, eighth in comprehensive fee and sixth in room and board 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 needed to provide a high-quality academic experience for students. Specifically, these expenses include:

  • Faculty and staff compensation. The overall salary budget will increase 4 percent, including 3.5 percent for base rate increases and 0.5 percent for equity and market adjustments. The base rate increase will be 3.5 percent for the first time since 2002-2003; increases in the intervening years have been 2.5 percent, 1.5 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent (this year). Faculty salary decisions will be made after annual reviews, and increases will be based on a general increase, merit pay and equity. Salary increases for staff members will be based on performance ratings during annual reviews.
  • Medical expenses. The medical expenses associated with the health benefit plan for employees are projected to continue at double-digit rates. St. Thomas projects its medical expense budget will increase 14 percent next year, on top of a projected increase of 22 percent this year and an actual increase of 25 percent last 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 portfolio bonds sold over the years to pay for building construction.
  • Laboratory equipment. A significant increase is planned for new equipment, primarily in the science and engineering areas. Examples include a refrigerated centrifuge, CO2 incubators, an atomic absorption spectrophotometer, a real-time polymer chain reaction thermocycler, replacement oscilloscopes, an electric motor demonstration unit, a coincidence and nuclear spectroscopy, and an optical spectroscopy. In addition, repairs will occur for equipment such as the nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.
  • Building projects. Ongoing improvements will include a new roof on O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, a sprinkler system in Grace Residence Hall, replacement windows at the Gainey Conference Center, and air conditioning and air-handling improvements in the IRT data center where all of the university’s servers are housed.
  • Technology improvements. This summer, St. Thomas will complete the wireless network for the St. Paul campus, adding O’Shaughnessy Educational Center and the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts and upgrading the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center. An upgrade of the university’s commercial Internet connection, from 45 megabits per second last fall to 100 this fall, also will continue. Between five and 10 St. Paul classrooms will be converted to “smart” classrooms, with full technological capabilities. The addition of a Blackboard Content System will enable users to more efficiently store, manage and share content from within a central repository.
  • Library collections. St. Thomas expects to add 7,000 books and about 100 electronic journal titles. Over the last five years, St. Thomas has increased access from 16,000 electronic journal titles to nearly 34,000.

St. Thomas also will continue to set aside substantial funds for financial aid. More than 80 percent of undergraduate students – and virtually every freshman – 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 expects to enroll a freshman class of 1,300 this fall. That would be the third straight year of freshman classes around that size – the largest freshman class (1,325) enrolled in 2005 and last fall’s class totaled 1,299.

The larger freshmen classes and improving financial situation 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 will hold two information sessions on next year’s budget. The review for faculty and staff will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, in Room 155, Murray-Herrick Campus Center. The review for students will be from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, March 15, in Room 304 (third-floor lounge), Murray-Herrick Campus Center. Snacks and beverages will be served at both sessions.