Operating budget includes funding for key priorities

Princeton University trustees on Jan. 21 adopted a 2006-07 operating budget of more than  $1 billion that includes special funding for key initiatives in several areas.

The trustees acted on a budget proposal from President Shirley M. Tilghman, based on the recommendations of the Priorities Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community. The committee, which is composed of faculty, students and staff and chaired by Provost Christopher Eisgruber, has served as the mechanism for recommending fiscal and programmatic priorities for more than three decades.

The committee recommended the allocation of approximately $500,000 -- the same amount as last year -- to fund its highest priority programmatic requests in an overall balanced budget. Those funds will be allocated for:

  • additional graduate student teaching hours, particularly for interdisciplinary undergraduate courses in science and engineering and large introductory graduate courses;
  • library acquisitions, reflecting inflationary increases and the University's expansion in fields such as neuroscience, creative and performing arts, genomics, law and public affairs and biomedical ethics;
  • outreach efforts by the Office of Admission focused on minority and low-income students;
  • a full-time director of disability services, responding to the growth in the population of students with special needs; and
  • staffing needs in public safety, health services and athletics.

"The committee's recommendations … respond to critical priorities in a number of different areas, among them core needs of the University's academic mission and efforts to increase diversity and make the University's education accessible to all," Eisgruber wrote in an introductory letter to the report.

The group also recommended "staff and faculty salary pools that are substantially larger than the limited pools of the previous two years," Eisgruber wrote. "The increases to the pools reflect our need to remain competitive in the hiring markets for faculty and staff."

The report noted that, for the second year in a row, the University is functioning in a "delicate financial environment" that Eisgruber has described as "short-term pressures against a background of long-term financial health."

High energy costs, in particular, remain a source of pressure on the budget, along with rising inflation levels. According to the report, the Priorities Committee "gratefully recognizes that the University's highly effective efforts at energy conservation kept the problem from being even greater, and understands that even the most aggressive such program could not contain costs that have been high and volatile for two years."

On the positive side, an increase in short-term interest rates substantially raised the University's current funds income, which directly feeds the operating budget. The University also benefited from much higher-than-expected investment returns for the second consecutive year.

"Thus, in absolute terms, the financial health of the University improved despite the demands on current operating expenditure levels," the report said. "This gives both the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees and the Priorities Committee comfort that the University can address its shorter-term budget pressures and provide for some modest growth in program without compromising the longer-term sustainability of the budget plan."

Tuition and fees

Reflecting the University's commitment to making a Princeton education more accessible to all students, the Priorities Committee "has sought once again to recommend as low a rate of increase in tuition and fees as is consistent with sustaining Princeton University's overall excellence."

For 2006-07, the committee recommended a 4.9 percent increase in the rate of tuition, room and board to $42,200, which compares to total undergraduate charges of $40,213 in 2005-06. The recommended increase is slightly lower than last year's 5 percent and below the average national rate of increase. The College Board reported that tuition and fees rose 5.9 percent at four-year private institutions and 7.1 percent at four-year public institutions in 2005-06.

"Princeton's student fee package has been the lowest of our comparison group … for the past five years, and the dollar gap between Princeton's fee package and the average of the other schools' fees has grown considerably during that time," the report noted. "While a 4.9 percent increase falls at the high end of the range of percentage increases that the committee has recommended in the past 10 years, we believe that, given the rising costs of higher education and recognizing the strength of our financial aid policies, it is as small an increase as we can prudently recommend."

Princeton's undergraduate charges next year will include: $33,000 for tuition, a 4.9 percent increase from $31,450 in 2005-06; $4,885 for room, up 6 percent from $4,610; and $4,315 for board, an increase of 3.9 percent from $4,153. Graduate tuition and fees are scheduled to increase by similar percentages.

The budget for Princeton's groundbreaking financial aid program will be increased enough to cover additional charges for students who qualify for aid. The University has significantly enhanced its aid program in recent years in an effort to make a Princeton education even more affordable, highlighted by the replacement of loans with grants that do not need to be repaid.

These efforts have dramatically improved the economic diversity of Princeton's student body. Of this year's freshman class, a record 55 percent, or 675 students, are on financial aid -- compared to 38 percent of the class of 2001, the last class admitted before the enhancements to the aid program.

The Priorities Committee report is available online as well as from the Office of the Provost.