Tuition is expected to rise modestly next year, pending approval by the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

As the Corporation prepares to meet this weekend, administrators are looking carefully at the cost of attending Yale in a time when both the University and its students are struggling economically. Although tuition will undoubtedly rise as it has in years past, Yale officials have not yet decided whether the increase should be pegged close to the rate of inflation, as they decided last year, or if it should climb higher. Either way, though, Yale will likely continue to be the cheapest school in the Ivy League.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”11096″ ]

It was not always this way.

When Levin took office in 1993, the cost for an undergraduate to attend was $25,110, among the highest in the Ivy League at the time. Over the 15 years of Levin’s presidency, though, the rate of increase at Yale has consistently lagged behind its peers. Tuition, room and board in Yale College this year added up to $46,000.

“I felt that, to the extent we’re able to depend on our endowment, we wanted to be on the conservative side with respect to tuition increases,” Levin said in a telephone interview. The question now is what will happen to Yale’s tuition when the school cannot depend as much on its endowment, which is expected to fall 25 percent this fiscal year. University officials said they will likely announce next year’s tuition before spring break.

Just last year, Yale made a major announcement about the increase of its tuition rate. As part of last January’s expansion of financial aid, Yale said it would only increase the cost of attendance by the expected level of consumer price inflation, which was 2.2 percent. That commitment, though, was only for the 2008-’09 year.

Other schools have been more aggressive in hiking fees for the coming academic year. With costs rising and income falling, some schools are facing budget gaps even larger than Yale’s $100 million deficit. Cornell University and Dartmouth College recently announced tuition hikes of 4 and 4.8 percent, respectively.

“You can really think of it in two ways,” Levin said. “Yes, in a downturn we maybe need the revenue more. But we’re also an institution that depends upon public trust and confidence.”

Administrators also said they understand that an increase in tuition does not necessarily lead to a huge increase in revenue. Tuition only accounted for 15 percent of Yale’s revenue in the current year’s budget, compared to 44 percent from endowment income.

The administration hopes to close the $100 million gap in Yale’s operating budget in ways that do not create hardships for students’ families, Provost Peter Salovey said.

“Even though any tuition increase would be accompanied by a parallel increase in financial aid, I don’t believe anyone in the administration views larger than usual tuition increases as the way to address our budget challenges,” Salovey said in an e-mail.

The difference between a 2 percent increase (close to the rate of inflation) and a 4 percent hike (closer to other schools’ increases) would amount to about another $1,000 for families and about another $2.5 million for Yale, which is lower than it otherwise might be because 42 percent of the student body receives financial aid.

“It would be cruel, criminal and very, very unfortunate were these wealthy schools to raise money on low-income or moderate-income students,” said Gordon Winston, a professor at Williams College who specializes in the economics of higher education. “But none of them are doing that, because when they raise the quote-unquote tuition, they’re not raising the tuition. They’re raising the sticker price, the maximum anybody pays.”

Winston added that tuition increases tend to be fairly similar among top-tier schools, because no college wants to be seen as much more expensive than its peers. It is worth noting, then, that Princeton University announced last month that the price of tuition, room and board would increase 2.9 percent next year.