Princeton University trustees Jan. 24 approved the lowest percentage increase in undergraduate tuition and fees since 1966 -- 2.9 percent -- while also endorsing a 13 percent increase in the undergraduate scholarship budget to ensure that the rise in the fee package will not affect students on financial aid.
For students not on financial aid, the trustees sought to keep the rate of increase low in the face of difficulties confronted by many tuition-paying families during these uncertain economic times.
"Although the University's financial aid program is the most important vehicle for ensuring that a Princeton education is affordable to all the University's students, we recognize that the cost of a Princeton education puts substantial burdens on families that do not qualify for aid, especially those only slightly above the aid threshold," said Provost Christopher Eisgruber.
"While many universities may have no choice this year but to raise tuition sharply because other income streams have declined abruptly, we believe that Princeton has the capacity to hold down the rate of its increase, and that it ought to do so," he said. "We recognize that this commitment will add to the cost-cutting obligations undertaken by the University community, but we concluded that, in these unusual and difficult times, Princeton needs to take extraordinary measures in light of the hardships being faced by many tuition-paying families."
The projected budget increase in the financial aid program from nearly $92 million this year to more than $104 million next year will continue significant enhancements the University has made over the past 11 years, including replacing all required loans with grants that do not need to be repaid. This year the average grant for a student on financial aid is $33,700. These efforts have dramatically increased the economic diversity of Princeton's student body. Of this year's freshman class, a record 56 percent, or 700 students, are on financial aid. That percentage is a striking change from the class of 2001 -- the last class admitted before the enhancements to the aid program -- when 38 percent of the freshmen were on aid.
Princeton's undergraduate charges next year will include: $35,340 for tuition, a 3.1 percent increase from $34,290 in 2008-09; $6,340 for room, up 2.2 percent from $6,205; and $5,340 for board, an increase of 2.7 percent from $5,200.
The trustees also approved a 3.1 percent ($1,050) increase in the rate of regular graduate tuition, from $34,290 to $35,340, the same as undergraduate tuition; a 3.5 percent ($90) increase in the rate of DCE (Dissertation Completion Enrollment) graduate tuition, from $2,590 to $2,680; average increases in room and board rates at the Graduate College of 2.2 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively; and an increase in renewal rental rates of 2.2 percent for most graduate student apartments. In addition, they approved a 3 percent increase in graduate student stipends.
Sustaining defining commitments
The fee packages were part of a 2009-10 overall balanced operating budget of $1.3 billion adopted by the board at its Jan. 24 meeting. The trustees acted on a proposal from President Shirley M. Tilghman that was based on the recommendations of the Priorities Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community. Composed of faculty, students and staff, the committee has served for four decades as the mechanism for recommending fiscal and programmatic priorities.
"The current budgetary circumstances are the most unfavorable the University has experienced for many years," said Eisgruber, who chairs the committee. "The committee's deliberations accordingly emphasized the need to sustain Princeton's defining commitments: excellence in teaching and research, and equity in ensuring that qualified students can not only attend this University but flourish here."
As announced earlier this month, the current economic downturn has reduced the value of the University's endowment and has led officials to adjust future spending projections. The administration, the Priorities Committee and the trustees have developed a plan designed to address the budgetary challenges and protect the University's key priorities.
In addition to limiting tuition and fee increases, meeting the full financial aid of undergraduates who qualify and sustaining the increases in graduate student stipends, the plan includes:
• modest salary increase pools for the 2009-10 fiscal year focusing on protecting employees with the lowest salaries. Increases for satisfactory or better performance will be calculated on the basis of current salary levels rather than relative merit. Raises will be capped at $2,000 for the University's tenured faculty members and highest-compensated staff.
• reviews for any new search authorizations to hire faculty and staff to fill open positions. The University also will minimize the number of visiting faculty and researchers brought to campus next year.
• 5 percent reductions in all nonpersonnel expense budgets of academic and administrative units throughout the University, instead of the typical 2 percent increase.
• the allocation of a modest amount of funds -- $500,000 annually -- in response to programmatic requests that aim to protect existing University programs, resources and commitments from harm.
'Battening down the hatches'
The $500,000 that the Priorities Committee was authorized to allocate for 2009-10 programmatic requests was a significant decrease from the previous two years -- one-third as large as last year's amount and one-fourth the total distributed in 2007-08.
"This year's authorization recognizes that some increases to program are required even in times when the University finds itself forced to pull back on initiatives and cut costs," Eisgruber said. "Under the circumstances, the committee regarded its task as 'battening down the hatches' to avoid damage from an impending storm, rather than as 'trimming the sails' to enable the University to seize new opportunities."
The committee's recommendations focused on two themes: health care and sustainability. The funding will be allocated for:
• a director of inpatient services in University Health Services and two fellows' positions in Counseling and Psychological Services to ensure that staffing for counseling and mental health services is appropriate to meet demand. This need was identified four years ago by the President's Task Force on Health and Well-Being.
• permanent funding for the director's position and for part of the office budget for the Office of Sustainability. The office was created in December 2006 with term support from alumni donors.
• assistance for the recently launched Transportation Demand Management program (TDM) that is a key feature of the University's Sustainability Plan. TDM offers alternative transportation options for staff and faculty who commute to and from campus in an effort to reduce campus emissions.
In addition, two funded requests are targeted at maintaining existing programs:
• more support to preserve the quality of the pre-orientation program for the increasing number of international students.
• more frequent servicing of equipment in the Stephens Fitness Center.
The Priorities Committee report is available for download in PDF format as well as from the Office of the Provost.