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College’s endowment rebounds

MIDDLEBURY — After a turbulent couple of years, it looks like Middlebury College is out of the woods financially.
That’s according to Patrick Norton, vice president and treasurer at the college. Norton said that although the school’s endowment has rebounded to $825 million from its low point in March 2009, the financial crisis has changed the way the institution handles its money.
“We’re managing our enterprise in this new world, with resources that are more restrained,” said Norton. “We’re working with projections that are more conservative, and we’re managing to balance budgets.”
The endowment is still shy of pre-recession highs in 2007, when it reached $962 million, but it’s a far cry from the $649 million to which it plummeted in 2009 (a 33-percent decline over an 18-month period).
“It’s certainly higher than where it was during the darkest days,” said Norton.
The financial upswing has allowed the college to lift austerity measures over the past year, including a hiring and salary freeze that went into place in 2009.
At that time, the administration cut 100 staff positions, a reduction of about 10 percent, through early retirement and voluntary separation packages. Meanwhile, Middlebury has also increased its student body from a pre-recession 2,400 to current totals of 2,450.
While the hiring and salary freezes have now been lifted, the administration is still keeping hiring in check.
“We’re only adding staff after much deliberation,” said Norton.
But, he added, school officials believe these changes have occurred with no detriment to the quality of a Middlebury College education.
“(We did it) without sacrificing the student/faculty ratio,” said Norton. “We’re still investing in ourselves, and we’re still opening more sites abroad.”
In fact, the college’s variety of offerings — its summer programs at the Bread Loaf School of English; its college and high-school level language schools on campus, in Monterey, Calif., and in various locations throughout the country; and Middlebury Interactive Learning language software that’s in development — offer diverse income streams that make for a more stable financial footing.
In fact, said Norton, 30 percent of the institution’s revenue stream now comes from outside of the undergraduate college.
Still, the undergraduate college is the institution’s mainstay, and at $53,420 per student, the 2011-2012 comprehensive fee is no small figure.
But while Middlebury once boasted one of the highest comprehensive fees in the nation, Forbes reports that Sarah Lawrence takes the top spot for 2011-2012 with a comprehensive fee of $58,334, followed closely by a number of schools in the same range.
Comprehensive fee increases have slowed at Middlebury since February 2010, when the administration took an unprecedented step among private colleges by pledging to limit its annual tuition hikes to within 1 percent of inflation.
Norton said the restriction in price hikes hasn’t held the college back in comparison with other private colleges. In fact, although Middlebury was the first to set a tangible goal, Norton said most colleges are striving to meet similar limitations.
“All colleges are mindful of the cost of higher education,” he said. “While we’ve gotten out front and made it one of our goals … we’re all concerned about it.”
Overall, growth projections for the college’s endowment are simply smaller now. Whereas the administration formerly expected growth of at least 9 percent on the endowment on an annual basis before the recession, Norton said the college’s new financial models only estimate 5-percent growth.
“We’re in a stable place at the moment,” said Norton. “The economy concerns me, the markets concern me, but our financial modeling is more conservative now.”
And, said Norton, all changes in spending occur with the central goal of maintaining quality educational opportunities.
“It’s really about students at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s about making sure they have that high-quality experience whether they’re on campus or off.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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