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Tuition Hike Considered At Va., Md. Colleges

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By Anita Kumar and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 25, 2009

RICHMOND -- Virginia's public colleges and universities are considering raising tuition this fall by as much as 10 percent to make up for massive cuts in state funding.

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The potential for a dramatic tuition increase has state legislators worried that Virginia's well-regarded higher-education system might be moving beyond the reach of many middle-class families. But they disagree sharply on how to solve one of the most serious problems stemming from the state's estimated $2.9 billion shortfall.

Members of the House want schools to voluntarily keep tuition increases below 6 percent in return for extra state aid. Senators want to let schools raise tuition as needed and provide more financial aid to students. Neither approach, legislators agree, is likely to satisfy parents or university officials.

"I must tell you that this continuing cycle of budget cuts is really getting to a tipping point," Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech, told lawmakers last week.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has proposed cutting funding for higher education by about $296 million over two years. That translates into a 5 to 7 percent reduction in funding this year and 10 to 15 percent next year.

It would be the third time in the past two years that Virginia has slashed aid to colleges.

The potential tuition increases come as many laid-off workers are attempting to return to college to acquire new skills, and the economy is prompting students to stay in school longer.

"You are running up tuition for middle-class people that are not eligible for financial aid," said Del. Clarke N. Hogan (R-Charlotte), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "You really hit them hard."

University officials said they are in a bind because they are facing steep cuts at the same time costs are rising.

At Virginia Tech, Steger said, classes are already too large, and the lack of available classrooms means some classes have to run as late as 10 p.m. Some schools are freezing or reducing enrollments to cope with the cuts.

Several university officials told the House Appropriations Committee last week that the quality of education will continue to suffer.

"We will seriously consider whether or not we will accept more students for this fall," said Linwood H. Rose, president of James Madison University.

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