Hammered by the recession and state budget pressures, Virginia’s public colleges saw tuitions skyrocket by 9.7 percent overall last year. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has urged college administrators to keep hikes this year to under 3 percent, but any success in that effort is certain to be marginal and fleeting.
Schools that had seen hikes from 5 to 9 percent in recent years seem to be managing to keep next fall’s increases to between 3 and 4 percent — still above McDonnell’s call to hold them to the Consumer Price Index increase level of 2.7 percent.
The College of William & Mary plans a 3.3 percent hike for in-state students, while the University of Virginia has announced a 3.7 increase. Other schools, such as Virginia Commonwealth University, will make their tuition decisions within a few weeks.
The recently approved two-year, $58 billion state budget includes provisions for an increase of $230 million for higher education. That does seem like a major reversal, since last year alone, state funds for college slipped 14.7 percent.
Overall, however, the $230 million is not a great deal of money, and it doesn’t address some of the basic problems. At the University of Virginia, for instance, the state once provided 58 percent of the school’s funding needs but now only provides 28 percent. Other schools show similar trends.
If lost state funding is unlikely to reappear in any meaningful way, what’s possible? Schools are pushing more alumni donation schemes and other new sources of funding. Some observers have even suggested privatizing state schools as a way to meet what they say are unchanging and inevitable trends.
Another view is that state colleges could do a lot more to rein in spending by adjusting professor tenure and becoming stricter on research. Ideas abound for using distance teaching and computers, much of it from private, for-profit sources, to handle some of the course load, especially in science, technology and introductory survey courses.
But for the basic consumers — the students — the problem remains the same: ever bigger tuition bills. Not only are they facing dimmer job prospects when they graduate, with many moving back in with mom and dad, but their college loan burden is set to get bigger on July 1.
That day, interest rates on new, federally-subsidized student loans are scheduled to double to 6.8 percent. It means that by some calculations, students with the maximum subsidized loan amount of $23,000 will pay an extra $5,000 over a 10-year repayment period. Keeping the existing 3.4 percent interest rate is fast becoming a major election issue, as politicians still fidget about the decline of higher education opportunities in Virginia and the rest of the nation.