In a bold move, particularly in this climate, Middlebury has now placed a ceiling on tuition increases at one percent above CPI.  I am surprised that Midd can afford to do this given its much smaller endowment than Williams and Amherst.  I like this policy because it forces the type of cost-consciousness, on a permanent basis, that has led to some creative thinking about spending patterns on campus.  Moreover, it does seem like tuition can’t rise at the current rate forever … I mean at some point, maybe at 70k a year, maybe at 100 (which isn’t that far off at current rates of increase) the sticker shock will become just too much to bear.  I am not sure I’d put such a policy in place right now given everything that is being cut already, but as a long term policy goal, it makes a ton of sense.  Moreover, if other peers follow, Williams will have no choice but to join in.

On the downside, this policy seriously hinders a college’s ability to price discriminate by soaking the richest families, who may be able to afford extraordinarily high tuition increases, and diverting those extra revenues to financial aid students.  Midd never went no-loans in the first place, but I’d be surprised if, in the event Midd’s peers don’t match this policy, Midd can viably compete for middle and upper middle class students who qualify for financial aid.  On the plus side, this should really help Midd with the substantial portion of upper middle class students who just miss out on financial aid, but for whom 50k plus in tuition represents a substantial burden on their families.  Ideally, I’d like to see this policy AND no loans, but I’d rather see the return of no loans, first.

Not long after President Falk takes office, he’ll no doubt start talking with the Board of Trustees about themes for the next fund drive.  Were I creating a “wish list” in soliciting major donations, this bullet point would be near the top (it’s a very appealing sell … and would also take a massive donation to make happen).  Generally, I’d seek donations that could, in no particular order:

  • enable CPI-adjusted caps on tuition increases
  • resume no-loans and secure need-blind for internationals going forward
  • secure competitive salaries and benefits for the expanded faculty, without cutting back on visitors (and maybe even toss in DK’s teaching awards to boot), plus adding a few particularly distinguished visitors who are renowned for their teaching abilities (perhaps a Williams version of the Baylor teaching award / visitorship that Professor Burger just won)
  • accelerate the completion of Stetson-Sawyer and Weston (maybe via naming rights for portions of each project)
  • continue to improve socioeconomic diversity of the student body
  • fund long-overdue major improvements to the athletic facilities (the field house and Chandler / Lasell in particular)
  • add additional coops for senior housing in light of the slightly expanded student body, so as to maintain a comfortable volume of campus housing without cutting into common space
  • create endowed funds for continuous integration of new technology into campus and alumni life (generally improving both alumni relations and the college’s brand by making campus events more accessible via the web, more creative web outreach to alumni and prospectives, etc.  Given Williams’ location, it should always be ahead of the curve when it comes to technological outreach, and that has not been the case in recent years)
  • diversify social life on campus via dedicated endowed funding of creative event, speaker and performance series at the Log, Paresky, Goodrich, Chapin and potentially (if feasible) an improved multi-purpose field house that is flexible enough to accommodate campus-wide music / entertainment events on the occasional weekend evening.  I don’t know of any Williams peer that has anything close to the variety and caliber of student-life spaces on campus … I believe that the best way (a) to compensate for Williams’ location and (b) to address the concerns about the prominence of alcohol in social life, the best (and maybe only) option is to make sure the funding is there when students are motivated to use those spectacular spaces in creative fashion, creating a wider variety of campus events that appeal to all types of students.
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