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St. John’s College to slash tuition with new ‘philanthropy-centered’ plan

SANTA FE – St. John’s College, the private liberal arts college with campuses in Santa Fe and Annapolis., Md., says it is moving to a new “philanthropy-centered” financial model that includes major cuts in tuition, particularly for New Mexico residents.

Two St. John’s graduates – renowned Napa Valley winemaker Warren Winiarski and his wife, artist Barbara Winiarski – through their family foundation have created a challenge grant to match up to $50 million in donations to help make the new model work.

The school, known for its old-school “Great Books” curriculum, focused on the foundational texts, science and mathematics of Western civilization and without electives, is chopping its tuition from $52,000 to $35,000, starting with the 2019-20 school year.

New Mexico residents who attend St. John’s in Santa Fe will receive a $10,000 annual grant, effectively lowering their tuition to $25,000 a year.

“There is a perception in our own community that St. John’s is an elite, secluded college on a hill that is not an attainable option for New Mexico students,” said Mark Roosevelt, St. John’s overall president and head of the Santa Fe campus.

“And we want to change that. St. John’s College is New Mexico’s liberal arts college, and we have a responsibility to make college more affordable for students in our own backyard.”

The college’s announcement says St. John’s is moving away from “prestige pricing,” the idea that a higher base tuition gives a school a sheen of quality and prestige.

Roosevelt said in an interview that St. John’s has been part of “the ridiculous escalation in sticker prices” for a college education, and that $25,000 “is still a lot of money” for working- and middle-class families. With a lower published tuition, before financial aid and scholarships come into play, St. John’s wants to “invite more people into the conversation” about enrolling, Roosevelt said.

“We hope this sends a message that if you are interested in a rigorous, distinctive education” at St. John’s, it can be affordable, he said.

It costs about $60,000 annually to educate its students, the college’s announcement said. To make the new model work, St. John’s is launching a fundraising effort called “Freeing Minds: A Campaign for St. John’s College,” with a goal of taking in $300 million to double the college’s endowment by 2023.

There are already $183 million in commitments toward the campaign goal. That includes previously announced donations of $25 million each in 2016 from Ron Fielding, chair of the college board and retired from the financial industry, and Warren Spector, an investment banker.

Those gifts came as St. John’s was going though some cutbacks, including laying off about 30 people to address part of a $12 million structural deficit.

St. John’s, at the two locations, had 780 students in 2017. Roosevelt said the Annapolis campus is full and there is room for 50 to 70 more students in Santa Fe. St. John’s is now “in very good shape financially,” he said.

Roosevelt said the $50 million matching grant by the Winiarski Family Foundation is the largest to a private college in a decade. Both Warren and Barbara Winiarski attended St. John’s in Annapolis. Warren Winiarski is also known as a Summer Classics tutor at the Santa Fe campus.

He is owner of Acadia Vineyards and founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. His place in wine history was secured in 1976 when a three-year-old Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon won a tasting in Paris, for the first time putting California wines on par with French vintages. A bottle of that award-winning wine is now in the Smithsonian. Barbara Winiarski’s paintings were published in the 2018 book “Passages.”

“In supporting the college and its future, the Winiarski Family Foundation hopes this gift will continue to give students the opportunity to learn as we did,” the couple said in a statement.

St. John’s, founded in 1696, is the third-oldest college in America. The Santa Fe campus opened in 1964.