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Hillsdale College increased its total costs to $35,722 for the 2016 – 2017 aca­demic year.

Over the last decade, HIllsdale’s costs have risen approx­i­mately 3 – 4 percent annually. Despite the trend, Hillsdale has kept its tuition costs sig­nif­i­cantly lower than its com­petitors, even though it refuses to accept federal funds. And current stu­dents expressed that the overall value and dis­tinc­tiveness of a Hillsdale degree out­weighed the increases in tuition costs.

“The major take­aways are Hillsdale’s increase in tuition and fees is slightly below average,” Director of Insti­tu­tional Research George Allen said.

Com­pared to sim­i­larly sized liberal arts col­leges in the Midwest, Hillsdale’s tuition grew by 20 percent, but the average was 22 percent. The college had the lowest cost of tuition and fees of its 31 peer schools. In fact, Hillsdale’s current tuition and fees is less than 30 of those insti­tu­tions’ costs in the 2011 – 2012 school year.

And during the eco­nomic recession, in 2008 and 2009, the college froze tuition costs to protect fam­ilies.

Overall, uni­ver­sities rely on tuition to cover their costs of oper­ation. Tuition costs account for a large portion of a uni­ver­sity’s revenue, so to finance new projects and keep up with costs of a growing labor force, infra­structure, and main­te­nance fees, uni­ver­sities often increase tuition to meet these financial demands. As most col­leges take a portion of federal and state tax­payer money, uni­ver­sities tend to increase tuition, rel­ative to the amount of funds they receive from the gov­ernment.

“It is true that at Hillsdale the cost of tuition is very low rel­ative to the quality of edu­cation, facil­ities, and pro­grams available to stu­dents,” Chief Admin­is­trative Officer Rich Péwé said.  “We do work very hard here to keep costs down, but the product is out­standing.”

The reason Hillsdale College is able to maintain such low tuition rates, Péwé said, is because the college makes strategic investment deci­sions that out­smart the com­pe­tition.

“We think better,” Péwé said. “Other col­leges will hire a bunch of adjuncts to teach new pro­grams. We hire full-time faculty. We operate the facil­ities and our admin­is­trative func­tions as cost effec­tively as pos­sible, so we can max­imize our return on all our invest­ments.”

Aside from inflation, wage increases as well as a growing number of faculty are two primary reasons the college expe­ri­ences tuition increases as time passes.

“We have grown the faculty, 45 in the last 15 years,” Péwé said. “We have shifted resources from other areas, building in effi­ciencies — to do more with less — and help cover the cost of more full-time and better faculty to teach.  Also, we want to keep the student faculty ratio at no less than 10 – 1, so when our enrollment increases, we have to balance this with new faculty.”

Hillsdale College is also able to drive down tuition costs by diver­si­fying its revenue sources, so it is less dependent on tuition costs. Housing costs, meal plans, and revenue from the book­store are addi­tional revenue streams that aid in bal­ancing the overall costs. Many depart­ments like mar­keting and fundraising are self-funded, so they do not con­tribute to the overall costs of running the college.

As Hillsdale is pri­vately funded, most con­struction projects the college takes on are covered by endow­ments from private sources, meaning they do not impact the col­leges financial burden what­soever. This activity rarely occurs at other col­leges, Péwé said.

Aside from having to cover its costs of oper­a­tions com­pletely inde­pendent from the state, Hillsdale must raise its own funds to pay for loan and schol­arship pro­grams.

“If we raise tuition, we just have to go out and raise that much more schol­arship money to cover that extra cost,” Péwé said. “Other col­leges might just increase their enrollment to get the extra revenue from tax­payers.  When we increase enrollment, we end up having to raise even more money from our friends to help pay for schol­ar­ships.”

Rich Moeggenberg, financial aid director, said the cost increases of 3 – 4 percent are “very man­ageable.”

“If you look at state col­leges, that increase is low,” Moeggenberg said. “I think the highest increase within that ten-year period was less than 5 percent.”

In addition, there are several schol­arship oppor­tu­nities for stu­dents that are not available to incoming freshmen. To keep up with rising tuition costs, stu­dents can earn addi­tional schol­ar­ships or reduce their total bill by moving off campus or getting a part-time job.

Stu­dents have the oppor­tunity to interview for GOAL Program lead­ership posi­tions and Dow Jour­nalism Program, George Wash­ington Fel­lowship, and Winston Churchill Fel­lowship mem­ber­ships, as they con­tinue their edu­cation, Moeggenberg said.

“There are a cohort of about 15 or more internship posi­tions which have schol­ar­ships or monies attached to them,” Moeggenberg said. “As Dr. Arnn said, we like to have stu­dents help us run the place.”

And even loans, which help to con­tinue a rela­tionship between the college and its stu­dents, return to the school, and their interest go toward loans for the next gen­er­ation of Hills­dalians.

“When stu­dents repay their loans, that the pay­ments they make on that loan goes directly into a schol­arship fund who is loaned to another student who pur­suing the same kind of edu­cation that they had.” Moe­genburg said “And when stu­dents call about their loans, they aren’t speaking with Citibank to Dis­cover Bank, or some­place in China, they are talking to Alice, whom they’ve known for six years, so it is rela­tional.”

And a similar rela­tionship forms with donors, as well, for many stu­dents have the oppor­tunity to meet the people spon­soring their edu­cation at Hillsdale and creates a culture of grat­itude.

“It’s not just tax­payers money,” Moeggenberg said. “It’s ‘Mr. Johnson,’  who is getting his checkbook out every year to per­sonally fund their edu­cation… It creates a dif­ferent envi­ronment. It puts a smile on peoples faces.”

Tuition costs, however, are a large concern for those applying and attending college, stu­dents said.

“Price was a huge factor in selecting a college,” freshman Kathryn Bas­sette said. “I ended up taking a gap year, because I’m paying for my own edu­cation and needed to work to pay for my first year of school. In coming to college, I had to wrestle with the question: ‘Is higher edu­cation worth the cost?’ and I had to con­sider what kind of edu­cation best suits my needs.”
Bas­sette said a Hillsdale degree was worth it.

“We all know the liberal arts edu­cation — specif­i­cally Hillsdale’s —  is so unique,” Bas­sette said. “It’s not just learning as a means to an end, but it is enjoying the process of learning itself. I view it as an investment.”

The “uniqueness”  of the edu­cation offered at Hillsdale is a pow­erful advantage, according to the admis­sions office.  

“When I began working at admis­sions in 2008, there were a lot of con­cerns about money and the use­fulness of a liberal arts edu­cation,” said Jenny Brewer, director of field recruitment for admis­sions.

Atti­tudes sur­rounding the value of a liberal arts edu­cation have shifted in the college’s favor, as more studies show how critical thinking and having a well-rounded edu­cation improves indi­viduals’ careers, Brewer said.

“I also think that the overall atmos­phere in higher edu­cation has become more friendly to liberal arts degrees, not nec­es­sarily our phi­losophy, but the kind of edu­cation which we provide,” she said. “What we often tell fam­ilies is that if it’s a numbers game alone, Hillsdale College probably cannot win. But when you con­sider the sort of edu­cation that Hillsdale pro­vides — that we do believe that there is truth and that it does not change — the whole purpose of edu­cation changes.”