Baum said William and Mary, founded in 1693 and esteemed as a “public Ivy,” is a public institution in unusually high demand. “I suspect they have room to raise their price without losing students,” she said. “Not that people won’t fuss. But it could be thought of as really equitable and efficient.”
The fiscal squeeze is especially intense for public schools such as William and Mary that compete with elite private institutions for students and faculty. The state share of the operating budget for the college in Williamsburg has fallen from 43 percent in 1980 to 13 percent today. Faculty salaries at William and Mary have not kept pace with those at many peer schools. Similar trends have hit public universities nationwide.
With uncertainties over public funding, “it is time for bold and creative ideas to provide the kind of resources needed to sustain great institutions like William and Mary,” college Chancellor Robert M. Gates said, “while also improving affordability for students with financial need and predictability about tuition amounts for everyone.”
Under the tuition plan, which the board approved on a 16 to 1 vote, the college will expand the number of students it enrolls from Virginia in coming years. There are now 4,077 in-state students among the college’s 6,171 undergraduates. By 2017, there will be more than 4,200.
“The reinvention of our operating model allows us to enhance and sustain William & Mary’s national preeminence,” Rector Jeffrey B. Trammell, leader of the board, said in a statement, “and promises that the fourth century will be the best yet for our 320-year-old institution.”
The lone dissenter was board member Pete Snyder of Fairfax County, who is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. He said that “no tuition increases are warranted in these very tough and uncertain economic times.”
In-state tuition and fees for the 2012-13 academic year total $13,570. Counting room and board, the current price for Virginia students is $22,888.
Out-of-state students, who account for about a third of William and Mary’s undergraduates, pay far more. Their bill for tuition, fees, and room and board in the coming school year will be $48,256, up 3 percent.
Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash said Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) was advised of the William and Mary plan as it was being developed. She said McDonnell was “very pleased,” citing the tuition guarantee and increased aid to the middle class.
Fornash called the new policy “a tremendous plan, extremely thoughtful, creative and very comprehensive.”
William and Mary is not the first public college to try a tuition guarantee. Georgia’s public universities offered fixed tuition to entering students from 2006 to 2009, said a spokesman for that state’s university board of regents, but abandoned it when economic troubles led to cutbacks in state funding. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also offers a four-year tuition guarantee under a state law that took effect in 2004.
Among private institutions, George Washington University in the District since 2005 has offered fixed tuition for up to five years for undergraduates.