College Costs Continue to Rise

How long can the cost of higher education continue to rise? Carleton College will ask families of students who enroll there next fall to pay a quarter of a million dollars over four years. This includes room and board, and books and fees, as well as tuition. An undergraduate degree from the Northfield school will cost more than my 22-year-old daughter paid recently for her tidy three-bedroom house.

But costs are just one side of the college coin. On the other side is financial aid, which today flows as never before. About 90 percent of the students enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College receive merit-based aid. This can reach $22,500 per year. That’s the value of the President’s Scholarship, which about 300 students now receive, according to Doug Minter, dean of financial aid. The award cuts the cost of attendance at the St. Peter school almost in half. To qualify, students must have scored 30 or more on the ACT, and achieved a grade point average of close to 4.0. Another Gustavus award, the Dean’s Scholarship, has a value of between $12,000 and $20,000. It considers students’ involvement in church or community activities and high school leadership, as well as academic performance. Both scholarships are renewed annually if students maintain a GPA of at least 3.0.

Similarly, the Buntrock Scholarship offers St. Olaf students $24,000 per year. A high school GPA of almost 4.0 and an ACT score of around 33 are required for the award, according to Michael Kyle, vice president of Enrollment and College Relations. The Northfield school’s cost of attendance is near $53,000, but several merit-based scholarships in addition to the Buntrock, including those for proficiency in music, dance, theater and the arts, help to bring families’ net cost down. After including awards, the cost to enroll at St. Olaf can fall to about the level of what the University of Minnesota charges.

Public institutions offer merit-based financial aid as well. The University of Wisconsin-Stout annually provides a total of $700,000 in foundation scholarships. Some of these are worth as much as $8,500, which nearly covers the Menomonie school’s $9,000 tuition. Through reciprocity with Wisconsin, residents of Minnesota qualify for in-state tuition at Stout and all member institutions of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The eight colleges have similar costs and aid packages.

The nine private colleges of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have varying approaches to financial aid. Carleton bases its generous awards largely on a family’s economic need. “We don’t want any financial barriers to get in the way of a qualified student enrolling at Carleton,” said Rodney Oto, director of Student Financial Services. Of Carleton freshman, 55 percent receive some need-based financial aid.

All of the MIAC and WIAC schools belong to the Division III class of the National Collegiate Athletic Conference. None of them, officially, can provide financial aid based on athletic achievements in high school. All however, have wide discretion in defining what leadership abilities or other personal qualities are and what may be considered in offering financial aid. “The band director might need a bassoon player,” said Carleton’s Oto, pointing out that those who run extracurricular activities can help to influence the makeup of an incoming class. Indeed, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted, even Harvard “is leveraging financial aid and donor money to build a dominating football team.” It paid off for the Crimson this season, as Harvard posted a perfect 10-0 record and the championship of the Ivy League, a league where athletic scholarships are not allowed.