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A new tuition model at the College of William and Mary will expand financial aid for middle-income families and help to curb debt.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The College of William and Mary has adopted a new tuition and operating model that, at first glance, could cause sticker shock for the families of Virginia students entering the state’s prestigious “public Ivy” this fall.
But a closer look reveals a thoughtful, forward-looking plan to make the nation’s second-oldest college accessible to more Virginia students and preserve its standard of academic excellence, despite a long-term erosion of state support for public higher education. The William and Mary Promise is an example of the innovation that elite public colleges and universities will have to demonstrate in an environment that demands greater self-sufficiency.
Tuition for incoming Virginia freshmen in the 2013-14 academic year will be $1,650 higher than the $8,778 paid by this year’s in-state students at William and Mary. Incoming classes in 2014-15 and 2015-16 will pay even higher rates. But as part of the plan unveiled last Friday, the tuition rate charged to incoming freshmen will remain constant through all four years of their undergraduate study, providing predictability for students and their families. And the cumulative four-year cost for this fall’s incoming students will be less than it would have been under the 7.1 percent annual tuition increases the college has averaged over the last five years.
The plan also will expand tuition relief for middle-income families — a definition that extends to a family of four with an annual income of $100,000 — and reduce the debt incurred by in-state undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid. Under the new model, the college will increase aid to in-state students by 50 percent over four years, with most of the funds used for grants rather than loans to reduce students’ debt burden. That will lower the maximum amount of loans included in a financial aid package by $2,000 for families with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 and $1,000 for other families with financial need. The plan also will allow the college to increase in-state enrollment, a priority of Gov. Bob McDonnell and state lawmakers.
One statistic underscores the urgent need for a new financial model. William and Mary ranks 33rd in the nation for academic quality in U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey, but ranks 112th in resources. No other university in the top 50 has a comparable gap between quality and funding. The gap makes it difficult to recruit and retain the faculty needed to sustain the level of excellence that is William and Mary’s hallmark.
McDonnell and the General Assembly have taken steps to reverse the trend of disinvestment in higher education. But William and Mary leaders recognize that economic uncertainty and competing demands for public dollars mean that state funding increases will be incremental, at best. State funds covered 43 percent of the college’s operating budget in 1980, and just 13 percent today.
That’s why The William and Mary Promise relies more on faculty and staff performance, alumni giving and tuition-paying students and families than it does on appropriators in Richmond.
As William and Mary President Taylor Reveley said: “You can’t run a business on unrealistic assumptions.”
But state lawmakers and Virginia’s next governor still must realize that sustaining a “public Ivy” requires a commitment worthy of William and Mary’s promise.
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