Here’s a milestone that probably won’t thrill you: Tuition and fees have hit the five-digit mark in Virginia.
The required charges for an undergraduate from Virginia to attend a state-supported four-year college will rise 4.7 percent – or $468 – to average $10,387 in the academic year that’s about to begin, according to a state report released last week. The total doesn’t include charges for housing or food.
There’s a bright side: The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which issued the study, termed the increase “modest” in a news release. That’s because, in terms of percentages, it was the second-lowest increase in the past decade, the agency said. Yet it still was more than double the rate of inflation.
Setting tuition is a complicated task. But in at least one respect, it’s simple: When the state gives more money to colleges, tuition increases tend to ease up. When the commonwealth gets tighter with funding, as it did during past recessions, the schools charge students and their families more to make up the difference.
The lowest tuition-and-fee increase in the past decade came last year – a 4.0 percent rise. The boosts in tuition have declined largely because Virginia has increased annual funding for colleges by about $100 million over the past two years, or more than 8 percent, the state council’s report said.
But Dan Hix, the finance policy director of the agency, noted that that came after five straight years of budget cuts for the colleges. Virginia’s funding for the schools, he said, is still 11 percent – or $166 million – below what it was in 2007.
And that has gotten Virginia out of whack with one of its key goals in higher education.
The commonwealth’s policy traditionally has been to cover two-thirds of the cost of a Virginia student’s education, with the remaining third coming from the student. In recent decades, the state has been falling further short of that goal. And in the coming year, for the first time, the student will shoulder more than half of the burden – 51 percent – the report said.
Charges vary from college to college, based on a variety of factors. Among them: Schools with larger shares of non-Virginia students can more easily afford to charge in-state students less. Those with doctoral programs, Hix said, usually face higher costs, which result in higher tuition. And colleges with large enrollments, such as Virginia Tech, tend to keep per-student fees lower.
The charges generally fall into three categories. Tuition and educational fees (the official term is E&G, or educational and general, fees) are what students pay for academics. There also are fees for noneducational purposes, such as athletics and student activities. Together, they make up tuition and fees – what all students must pay.
The third category is room and board – what students who live on campus pay for their housing and meals.
The College of William & Mary overhauled its tuition formula this year.
Starting with incoming freshmen, the college is freezing tuition for a student’s four-year career. Fees and room and board will continue rising each year, but not dramatically, Provost Michael Halleran said.
“The volatility of the last 10 years of higher education has been troubling for families,” Halleran said. “I think it’s been troubling for us. Now we’re saying, ‘You’ll know what it is. You can make an informed decision.’ ”
John Cussen, a Chesapeake parent whose son Bill will begin school at W&M this month, said the formula has been hard to grasp. “I think I’m a reasonably intelligent person,” Cussen said. “I’m a lawyer, and I got my master’s degree in taxation from William & Mary itself. When we first got the notice about it, I could not make heads or tails of it.”
Halleran said of the new system, which includes a different formula for returning students: “It’s going to take a little while for everyone to get comfortable with it. My guess is that before long, it will be readily understood.”
The Higher Education Council isn’t the only Virginia body that issued a report on college costs this summer. Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that public four-year colleges in Virginia – and the nation – allot most of their money to purposes other than “direct instruction.”
“Spending on student housing, dining and intercollegiate athletics … has been the largest driver of spending increases at Virginia institutions,” said the report from the commission, known as JLARC.
Hix said, however, state data show that schools spend about two-thirds of their money on “instruction and academic support.”
“It’s not the tail wagging the dog,” he said. “We think institutions are appropriately focused” on education.
JLARC also warned about the growing financial burden on college students. More students, it said, have been taking out heavier loans to pay for their educations.
The proportion of students at Virginia’s state-supported four-year schools who took out loans grew from 30 percent in 1992 to more than half in 2011, the commission said. The average annual loan nearly tripled during that time to $9,893 from $3,318.
The state council plans to release a report on student debt later this month, Hix said.
Which school will cost the most?
The College of William & Mary, at least for in-state freshmen. They will pay $15,463 a year in tuition and fees – a 13.9 percent increase from last year’s $13,570 tuition-and-fee total. But tuition alone will account for about two-thirds of that – $10,428 – and that part of the equation won’t go up during a student’s four years under the new formula.
Returning students will experience a tuition increase pegged to the rate of inflation – 1.8 percent. With fees, that will come to $13,868 in 2013-14. Virginia Military Institute was the only school whose total – $14,404 – fell between the two levels at William & Mary.
Cussen, the parent from Chesapeake, said the W&M system puts parents at a financial disadvantage: “Instead of me going up a little bit each year, I’m paying a higher amount now. It means a little bit more money in the school’s pocket immediately.”
Even so, the four-year tuition total for parents of incoming students “will be no greater than what they likely would have paid if the historic trend of tuition increases had continued,” admission dean Henry Broaddus told parents in a letter.
In addition to predictability, the new system will provide the college an additional $8.1 million in 2013-14, said Halleran, the provost. That will allow W&M to expand financial aid for middle-income students, he said.
Which four-year school has the smallest bill?
Norfolk State University. Although its increase in tuition and fees was among the highest in the state, at 5.3 percent, the annual charge for undergraduates from Virginia will remain the lowest among the state-supported four-year schools, at $7,226.
Where does Old Dominion University rank?
Not among the most expensive universities, Monarchs parents will be happy to know. Old Dominion will increase tuition and fees 4.4 percent, less than the statewide average. That will bring the total to $8,820 for the 2013-14 school year, putting ODU in the bottom third of the state’s four-year colleges and universities in terms of costs.
What about room and board?
It usually costs almost as much as tuition and fees. The average annual room-and-board charge will rise 3.9 percent to $9,041. Among schools, it will range from $7,650 at Virginia Tech to $10,008 at Virginia State University, which spokesman Thomas Reed said opened three residence halls in the past three years.
The average total package for a student living – and eating – on campus in Virginia will increase 4.4 percent to $19,427, the state council reported. William & Mary again was most expensive, at $25,279 for freshmen.
What’s it going to cost students at Tidewater Community College?
The Virginia Community College System approved a 4.4 percent increase in tuition and technology fees to $3,900 a year. TCC will charge more – $4,735 – because it assesses additional fees for such items as maintenance and repair of parking lots and operation of student centers, said Phyllis Milloy, the vice president of finance.
How about private colleges?
The state does not calculate average charges at Virginia’s private colleges. Nationwide, the average price at private colleges, including room and board, increased 4.1 percent to $39,518 last year, the College Board said. Locally, the total annual cost this fall will rise 3.9 percent to $40,040 at Virginia Wesleyan College and 5 percent to $29,954 at Hampton University.
Undergraduates living at Regent University will pay a total of $19,750 this year, spokeswoman Mindy Hughes said. Tuition varies on the graduate level, depending on the program.
How does Virginia compare with the nation in terms of college costs?
It’s too early to say for the 2013-14 year. Last year, Virginians experienced a smaller average increase than U.S. parents but still had to shell out more. Average in-state tuition and fees at the commonwealth’s public four-year schools increased 4.0 percent in 2012-13 to $9,919. Nationwide, in-state tuition and fees rose 4.8 percent to average $8,655, the College Board reported.
The state council’s report predicted that Virginia would hold steady in another national ranking. An agency in Washington state ranks states by the costs at certain types of colleges and universities. The state council in Richmond predicted that the University of Virginia would remain the 12th most expensive among “major public universities.” Community colleges might drop to No. 20 from No. 19 but still would be costlier than most in the country.
Virginia college officials say the education they provide is worth the cost. Princeton Review’s list of “best value public colleges,” released last week, was topped by the University of Virginia, with W&M at No. 4. Six other universities in the commonwealth made the list of 75 schools: Christopher Newport, George Mason, James Madison, Longwood, Radford and Virginia Tech.
The rate of inflation is under 2 percent. Why are college cost increases more than double that? Part of it goes back to the need to make up for the decline in state aid for colleges, Hix said. Other factors that aren’t necessarily linked to the cost of living include debt service on nonacademic buildings, he said.
Which state-supported school charges the most in nonacademic fees?
VMI, by far, weighing in at $7,324 for the 2013-14 year. (The runner-up, way in the distance, is William & Mary, at $4,932.) Nearly one-third of VMI’s total – or $2,312 – is designated for its “unique military activities,” primarily uniforms. A cadet’s uniform issue includes six white parade belts, 13 pairs of pants, five pairs of white gloves and one gray overcoat, according to a list supplied by spokesman Stewart MacInnis. VMI also charges $350 for its laundry service and a $256 “barber shop” fee. MacInnis said most cadets get weekly haircuts.
Its student activity and athletic fees also are on the high end, at $2,600 and $1,576, respectively. That has more to do with VMI’s size than its military focus, MacInnis said. “At Virginia Tech,” he said, “you’ve got more than 30,000 students sharing this. At VMI, you have 1,600 to 1,700.”
Which has the heftiest athletic fees?
That sports powerhouse Longwood, which will charge $1,829. Blame Longwood’s relatively small student body – roughly 4,000 – and its entry into Division I athletics in 2007. “When you move to Division I, there are, unfortunately, a lot of things that have to be paid off, not the least of which is ramping up coaching staffs and athletic scholarships,” said Ken Copeland, Longwood’s vice president for administration and finance. “To do those things with an enrollment of a little over 4,000 students is a tall order.”
Philip Walzer, 757-222-3864, email@example.com