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Sunday, August 11, 2013
For the second consecutive fall, most Virginia students attending the state’s four-year public colleges and universities can return to campus without experiencing extreme sticker shock. Tuition and all mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates will increase by an average of 4.7 percent, or $468, over last year, according to a report released last week by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Students at community colleges will see a 4.4 percent increase, paying about $165 more per year.
Virginia Tech increased tuition and fees by 4.9 percent for in-state undergraduates. Radford University, one of the state’s most affordable public colleges, increased rates by 4.5 percent for in-state students.
No tuition-paying student or parent will turn cartwheels over the rising cost of higher education. But the modest increases of the last two years are easier to absorb than the dramatic hikes that most schools imposed during the depths of the recession to make up for state cuts.
Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly have made a concerted effort to reinvest in higher education with access and affordability in mind. The General Assembly approved an additional $25.1 million for state colleges this year. That means state funding will be about $100 million greater in the current fiscal year than two years ago.
The additional funding has enabled state colleges to slow the pace of tuition and fee increases. But lawmakers and Virginia’s next governor will have more work to do. In-state undergraduates are still shouldering a greater share of the cost of public higher education than ever before.
On average, in-state undergraduates are paying more than half of the cost of their education in tuition and mandatory instruction-related fees. SCHEV estimates the state’s share at 49 percent, well below the 67 percent target established in the state’s tuition policy. And those costs don’t include charges such as room, board and books, which are paid entirely by students and their families. Room and board charges at four-year schools will increase by an average of 3.9 percent this year.
When measured as a percentage of per capita disposable income, the total cost for an in-state student to attend a four-year college in Virginia is expected to reach an all-time high this year. Tuition and fees continue to increase at a faster rate than per capita disposable income.
“The growing importance of higher education as a requirement for sustainable employment imposes an ever greater responsibility on the Commonwealth to ensure that Virginia’s public higher education system remains not only viable but vibrant,” the SCHEV report states. “Dramatic fluctuations in state funding present a tremendous challenge to the well-being of our public institutions of higher education and the Commonwealth’s students and families.”
Candidates for the General Assembly and statewide offices should keep the report in mind as they peddle promises on the campaign trail. It’s easier to speak in generalities about cutting taxes and limiting spending than it is to address real challenges, such as college affordability and unfunded pension liabilities, which require sustained investment by the state.
Surely financially stressed college students and their parents, who are about to write tuition checks for the fall semester, will demand more than bumper-sticker slogans from candidates. Considering how important higher education is to the economy of this region and the state, so should the rest of us.
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