Flagler tuition sees major increase

Full cost for 2007-2008 will still be well below the national average

By Richard Harris

Freshman Chris Lauth fell in love with Flagler College back in high school, but he may be forced to leave his number one school if he can’t pay tuition next year.

Tuition will increase by $2,360 for the 2007-08 academic year—close to a 25 percent increase. The previous average increase ranged between five and seven percent.

“As an education major, four more years at Flagler will strangle me with $80,000 in debt…it’s a shame because I absolutely love it here at Flagler,” Lauth said.

The college has responded by funding an extra half a million dollars for financial aid for the 2007-08 year.
First year student Alana Cadiz said she feels that a large tuition increase is necessary to finance campus growth.

“One of the main reasons why I chose Flagler College was because of the price, and I know even with this tuition increase, my parents will still be paying much less than if I decided to attend Boston University or Northeastern University,” she said.

However, for students who pay out of their own pockets or whose families suffer financially, the 25 percent increase may be considered too much, too soon.
But for other students, like junior, Hannah Hesling, tuition is of less concern. “I didn’t even know it was going up,” she said. “But my parents pay for my tuition.”

Director of Admissions and Flagler graduate, Marc Williar, said the situation should be taken from a historic perspective.

“Even in the highly inflationary period of the 1970s when colleges were raising cost annually by as much as 20 percent per year, Flagler maintained incredibly modest increases which led to the current situation that I might typify as being grossly under priced,” he said.

Three or four reasons are responsible for what Flagler College President William T. Abare, Jr., describes as an “extraordinary increase” in tuition. Among those are costs incurred last year that transferred to 2007-08.

“The increase last year should have been much higher than it was,” Abare said. New faculty and staff positions were authorized following the approval of the 2006-07 budget last winter, requiring those costs be transferred to tuition in 2007-08.

In comparison with peer institutions, Flagler has typically offered lower than average faculty and staff salaries.

“For years and years, Flagler College has suppressed that part of the budget and was able to operate with low salaries—much lower than peer institutions,” Abare said. “But we soon realized that our past practices were no longer sufficient to ensure that we were going to be able to attract and retain the caliber of faculty and staff that students deserve.”

Abare made faculty and staff salaries an institutional priority in 2003. Higher tuition will help bring Flagler’s salaries to a competitive level, but Abare said it may take as many as four or five years to play “catch up” and to bring salaries in line with peer institutions.

“A large portion [of the tuition increase] is being directed toward faculty and staff resources in terms of salaries, benefits and new positions,” he said. “Institutions of higher education are labor intensive organizations, and for most colleges and universities, faculty and staff salaries represent a very large portion of the budget.”

Six new faculty members were hired this year, representing an addition of 20 faculty members over the past three years. Abare wants to reduce the college’s reliance on part-time faculty members.

Part of the budget includes operational costs related to the new Student Center and the new Art Annex Building which will be completed before the start of the Fall 2007 term. It also includes anticipated operational costs for the Florida East Coast Railway buildings, which may see some form of use next year.

Adding to the factors driving the increase in costs are property and casualty insurance rates, which have doubled this year to more than $700,000, according to Abare.

“It’s [insurance] part of the overall cost of our operation,” Abare said. “Also, utility costs, because of the cost of oil, have nearly doubled.”

Student charges for tuition, room and board place Flagler’s cost at $18,120 for 2007-08. But according to College Board, Flagler’s total cost was $15,157 less than the $30,367 national average for a four-year, private institution in 2006-07. Assuming that the average cost climbs by 6 percent, as it has for the past two years, the national average will rise to $32,189, and Flagler’s total cost will be
$14,069, below the national average.

“I am confident that this is the only year during the past 40 that Flagler’s dollar increase has been greater than our peers,” Williar said.

The increase, Williar said, will help pay for improved student life and academic programs, as well as an improved physical campus, keeping Flagler’s tuition “one of the most attractive anywhere in the nation.”

But Lauth believes current students were put in a difficult situation.

“In the future, students will be aware of the new tuition price and will apply to this school according to their financial restraints,” Lauth said. “But it does not matter how low we are to others, the fact still stands that current students weren’t expecting a 25 percent increase next year.”

Students were notified via e-mail and their student mailbox that advance deposits were due March 15. The reminder disclosed tuition cost for the upcoming year, but there was no clear explanation for the large increase.

“I think the school could have better informed us that this was coming,” Cadiz said, “although it was evident in the purchase of the FEC buildings and the building of the student center.”

To assist students who may struggle to meet higher tuition costs, the college has allocated an additional $500,000 in grant assistance in next year’s budget.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that this decision will be a burden to some students and their families. $500,000 is not going to go a very long way with 2,100 students, but for students with great financial need, it will help,” Abare said.

Abare anticipates a return to normal tuition increases in the following year.

In the meantime, Abare says the college will continue to aggressively raise money. The college raised six million dollars last year and will raise as much, or more, this year. “That’s money that will enable us to keep our cost competitive,” Abare said.

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