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Youngkin administration is asking college presidents to reverse their tuition hikes

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Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera spoke last month about state Department of Education’s report on Virginia’s public schools. Gov. Glenn Youngkin is seated at left.

RICHMOND — Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration is urging Virginia colleges that plan to raise the cost of tuition to reverse their decisions, the latest move by Youngkin to stymie increases to the cost of higher education.

Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera has called college presidents throughout the state, asking them to reconsider.

Of the state’s 15 public, four-year colleges, 10 plan to raise tuition between 3% and 4.7%: VCU, UVa, George Mason, James Madison, Mary Washington, Old Dominion, UVa-Wise, VMI, Radford and Longwood.

Four are keeping tuition flat but raising fees: Virginia Tech, William & Mary, Virginia State and Norfolk State. Fees pay for specific needs, such as transportation, technology or athletics and can’t be used to fund faculty.

One school, Christopher Newport, hasn’t settled on a price.

“Our families, especially middle-class families, are just feeling the pressure right now with rising costs,” Guidera said in an interview Friday.

Youngkin first asked colleges to freeze tuition last month with a letter to the presidents. This week’s calls were a follow-up to that conversation, Guidera said.

The conversations have been constructive and positive, she added, saying the school presidents share a commitment to keep college affordable. They’re working with their boards to make budget adjustments.

“It’s been collaborative,” one source said. “I think a lot of schools are going to do something.”

And if they say no?

“That would be a real disappointment especially to the people of Virginia who should expect colleges that are made possible by the people of Virginia to serve the people of Virginia,” Guidera said.

Colleges will enter the fall with higher expenses than before. They are required to give their employees raises of about 5%, and they face higher energy costs, higher maintenance costs — and for some — more financial aid.

But they also received large funding packages from the state that can help fund a tuition freeze. The amount of money planned for higher education in the upcoming budget is 14% higher than the last budget two years ago, Guidera said.

Given the higher costs families face and the greater funding received by colleges, now isn’t the time for a price hike, she added.

The largest tuition hike belongs to UVA, which announced a 4.7% increase this fall and a 3.7% jump in 2023. UVa’s decision is especially important, the secretary said.

UVa, which Princeton Review named the No. 3 best value public college in the country, meets 100% of demonstrated student need, said UVa spokesperson Brian Coy. Tuition increases at UVa during the past five years have been below inflation.

“We are firmly committed to access, affordability and excellence,” Coy added.

The total cost of attendance at Virginia public colleges, including room and board, has ballooned 43% in the past decade to $25,600.

While college enrollment is down nationwide, Virginia colleges have seen diverging results. UVa and Virginia Tech are receiving record numbers of applicants, but Radford, Longwood and VCU have seen their enrollments slide.

The percentage of high school graduates who choose college has slipped from 71% in 2011 to 67% in 2019, and average student debt has reached $30,000.

Keeping tuition affordable helps convince the most talented students to stay in the state, Guidera added. The percentage of Virginia high school graduates going to out-of-state colleges increased in the past decade.

To keep costs low for Virginia residents, Virginia Tech announced a tuition freeze for its in-state undergraduates. Its out-of-state students, who pay far more in tuition and bring in a larger chunk of the revenue, have to stomach a 3% increase. Out-of-state students make up 30% of the student body.

Virginia Tech’s approach could serve as a model for other schools, a source said.

VCU, which announced a 3% raise for all students, has fewer out-of-state students than Virginia Tech and would get less revenue from a hike that applies to only out-of-state residents.

But VCU president Michael Rao said without the money brought in by a tuition increase, VCU would have to cut 350 jobs, increase class sizes and maybe remove classes.

Even though VCU chose to raise tuition, it still expects to face a $15 million budget deficit that it must reconcile this summer. Colleges are required to have balanced budgets.

A 3% increase at VCU represents $524 per student, bringing the one-year cost of tuition and fees to about $15,600. Out-of-state students would pay almost $38,000.

More than 600 students, parents and alumni wrote messages to the board asking for a tuition freeze. Dr. Gopinath Jadhav, a VCU board member, suggested VCU administrators make a gesture to students, such as cutting their own pay raises.

“Our students are hurting,” he said at last month’s board meeting. “They need to see we are working for them in their favor.”

VCU has a board meeting scheduled for next Friday. A spokesperson for VCU did not respond to a request for comment.

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