By Alannah Balfour
On Feb. 9, the Lewis & Clark Board of Trustees approved a 4 percent increase in tuition for the 2018-19 academic year. This resolution accompanies a $155 million fundraising campaign designed to take place over the next seven years.
“It is not a secret that we’ve struggled to balance our budget,” Vice President for Business and Finance and Treasurer Alan Finn said. “This is a national thing: most private colleges have a problem balancing cost with revenue.”
When compared to peer institutions, LC has an extremely low endowment. This means that up to 85 percent of revenue is garnered from tuition and additional student fees.
“We worry about tuition increase and retention rate, which is why scholarship dollars are tied to the highest priority of our campaign,” said Finn. “We try to get enough of the students who have the ability to pay to subsidize the students who can’t.”
The details of the fundraising campaign have not yet been released to the public. This means that through targeted donors, such as the Board of Trustees, about half the campaign money will be raised before it is published. It will contribute to the endowment support and annual fund to aid faculty, scholarships and various initiatives across the three campuses. There is also an increased push for alumni, parent and community engagement.
“This is the first campaign we’ve had since 1998,” Finn said. “The speed and energy behind it are absolutely tied to the new president (Wim Wiewel). He’s the guy that knows how to bring money in the door, and he’s doing it.”
Although the campaign was gaining traction before President Wim Wiewel joined, neither Finn nor Wiewel knew why there had been such a long period without a targeted fundraising campaign.
“It is very rare for a small private liberal arts college to not have had a campaign for 20 years,” Wiewel said. “It really is a shame that (a campaign) hadn’t been done before, because that would have meant we would have been in better shape financially. It is absolutely critical because we need more money for scholarships, capital improvements and to support faculty and specific initiatives. (The campaign) is my number one priority. I feel very positive about our chances of succeeding and frankly, exceeding our campaign.”
Since Wiewel became president in the fall, there has been an increase in financial gifts. At this past board meeting, a total of $3 million was pledged to the campaign. An increased endowment would remove a portion of financial burden that is annually placed on the students and their families; however, during this upcoming year the tuition will continue to rise to fulfill growing costs.
“My main impact is that there has been a significant increase in gifts to the annual fund, and that was definitely generated by people’s enthusiasm for having a new president,” Wiewel said.
The annual fund is used to support yearly operational costs of the school. Despite additional money coming into the school, tuition continues to rise.
“I understand their motivations for increasing tuition,” Associated Students of LC President Marissa Valdez said. “We want to be seen as just as good of a school as other liberal art schools, and unfortunately how much we cost is a factor in how we are perceived. We need to signal that we are on par with peer institutions.”
With each annual tuition surge, the discount rate is adjusted. The discount rate is the percentage of students who are receiving financial aid, though scholarships and grants. Although the specific number is not released to the public, the discount rate evolves with each tuition increase.
“Our discount rate is about 50 percent, which means that on average, a student pays half price,” Finn said. “We model different aid levels whenever we increase tuition in order to keep things in the same place. We try very hard to award financial aid to our students, but our endowment is not large enough to fill that gap.”
“We also don’t want to be seen as a discount school, where students receive a discount education,” Valdez said.
The 2017-18 tuition, excluding mandatory fees such as room and board, cost $48,628. Although many students receive financial aid, attending a private institution is not cheap.
“At Lewis & Clark, we are able to provide the education that everybody should be getting,” Wiewel said. “Unfortunately, society as a whole is not able or willing to pay for it. But people come to Lewis & Clark because they are going to receive a superb education.”
Board of Trustees members are heavily advised by the school’s executive council. A tuition increase is proposed to a finance subcommittee composed of board members, where the executive council representative explains the process behind the proposal. If approved, it moves to the full board where it is either approved or rejected.
“I was at the table for the tuition proposal,” Valdez said. “Although I could not vote, I was happy to see the Board members ask questions that students would most likely ask. It is amazing how much the Board loves Lewis & Clark.”
It is unlikely that this fundraising campaign will mitigate tuition increases in the near future, but it may increase the ability for the school to aid students who are unable to pay the full price.
“As we do subsequent campaigns, our endowment (growth) will be significant that we may moderate the tuition cost,” Wim Wiewel said. “But if you look at the colleges with the biggest endowments, their tuition is higher than ours; although, not very many people actually pay that. They are able to bring in students regardless of financial need, and that’s ideally where we end up. Most of our competitors have two to three times an endowment per student as we do — this campaign isn’t going to get us there yet.”