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Tuition increases 5.5% for 2011-12

Belmont, feeling the pinch of the recent economic recession, will combat mounting costs by raising its tuition 5.5 percent this fall, bringing it to $11,885 per semester for fulltime undergrads.

The change is a $620 spike over the 2010-11 cost, and there will be a similar percentage of increase in dorm and meal plan costs beginning fall 2011.

But what’s happening at Belmont is not unusual; tuition and fees are increasing around the country at both public and private schools.

The new projected cost per semester will be steepest for incoming Belmont freshmen who live on campus. According to Belmont’s cost estimator, with the application fee, enrollment deposit, tuition, student fee, boarding and meal plan, freshman students could look at an estimated $17,115 for their first semester. That is without the cost ofrequired textbooks and fees for some courses.

In a letter to students, President Dr. Bob Fisher said,  “We aspire to make this university distinctively Belmont, a place where students explore their passions and develop their talents to meet the world’s needs. However, like public and private higher education institutions everywhere, we are facing the reality of rising costs.”

Joel Heumann, freshman commercial voice major, cares about how that money will be used.

“I find myself wondering, where exactly does this $32,000 a year for each fully enrolled student go?” said Heumann. “And what could be so expensive as to require them to raise tuition every year?”

The revenue generated by the cost adjustment is said to go toward increasing faculty and staff salaries, deferring the cost of employee benefits, food, maintenance, utilities, as well as funding things around campus such as Belmont’s security and mail services.

Studio art major Liz Elg said she is not at all offended by the new costs.

“My education at Belmont I think is absolutely wonderful and I think that I’m getting a better deal. I think I’m getting a steal actually because I’m getting such a good education for half the price that I would at another art school,” said Elg.

Four years ago, Elg applied to art schools all over the U.S. including Savannah College of Art and Design, also known as SCAD.

“Our building alone, the facilities and what we have access to is amazing. It’s comparative to SCAD. Literally, if you look at their campus and you go to their photo lab, look at their kilns and all that stuff, it’s pretty similar and their tuition is close to double.”

The average tuition cost for U.S. private schools in 2010 was $27,293 per year, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that keeps track of higher ed information. For the same period, Belmont’s tuition was $21,270, significantly less, but still steep.

For 2011-12, all fulltime undergrads at Belmont will have to cover tuition and the base student fee alone for a total of $24,960. That’s about half of Americans’ median household income, which the U.S. Census estimated at $49,777 in 2009, a decrease of 4.2 percent since 2007. Figures also show those households have rising debt, just as individual students do.

The Institute for College Access & Success released a report in 2008 about student debt across the nation the previous year. According to the study, 44 percent of Tennessee students left school in 2007 with $19,034 in debt. While that is the average, some leave college with up to $100,000 in debt that could take up to 30 years to pay off.

There’s help through other means, such as grants and scholarships. Belmont’s figures show that 80 percent of its students get some financial aid, but just a few at Belmont and the majority of schools have a “full ride’ – a scholarship that includes tuition, room and board for four years.

Another consideration is that a survey from the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that the overall average starting salary offer to Class of 2010 bachelor’s degree grads was $48,661 – which could make a high student loan payment tough to budget. The span was a high average of $65,628 for engineering grads to a low of  $32,358 for psychology majors.

“No one’s happy to pay more money necessarily, but I still feel like it’s worth the education that I’m getting,”  Elg said.

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