The grumbling going down the line of students waiting to register Monday at the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College wasn't over this quarter's fees. It was in reaction to the news of substantial tuition increases that are effective this summer.
"Forty-five percent increase? That's outrageous!" said John Collier, 21, a NVCC student from Arlington, when he first heard about the rise. But after the initial shock passed, he admitted, "I guess this place is still a good value, though."
Collier was echoing the sentiments of many of NVCC's 35,000 students upon hearing of the tuition increase passed by the state's Board of Community Colleges late last week. Though many students expressed shock at the rate of the increase, most said they could meet the new charges and would not have to drop out.
Starting with the summer quarter in June, annual tuition at all state community colleges will rise 45 percent--from $384 to $558--for full-time students who are Virginia residents. Out-of-state students, who number about 3,900 at NVCC, no longer will be subsidized by the state and will face an 83 percent tuition increase--from $1,284 to $2,346 for a full-time student. Cost per credit hour for a part-time resident increases from $10.75 to $15.50, and for part-time nonresidents from $36 to $65.
Most students waiting to register for spring classes were just beginning to realize the bargain they were getting in the last quarter at the old rate.
"I think I will take some more courses this quarter before the price goes up," said John Park, 25, of Falls Church. "It just seems like the increase came too quickly."
Last June, NVCC tuition went up by 12.5 percent for both resident and nonresident students.
College officials this week seemed most concerned about out-of-state students, who face a $1,000-plus increase.
"I can understand the legislature doing that to out-of-staters," said Fred Hecklinger, head of counseling at the Alexandria campus. "But I still think the education here is a great deal, and I encourage out-of-state students to come here."
"This was the only school that was good enough and that I could afford," said Jose Bustillos, 29, a Venezuela resident attending NVCC on a student visa. "I don't know what I will do now. Maybe I will have to go back home."
Steve Joo, 20, a District resident, was stunned by the jump. "I don't know if I will be able to continue here with that kind of an increase," he said.
NVCC officials also wonder what the tuition rise might do to their mix of students.
"Our tuition has been so reasonable because of the philosophy and intent of a community college to be an open access to higher education," said Jean C. Netherton, provost at the Alexandria campus, second-largest of the college's five campuses, with about 11,500 students. "But I am afraid that some of the people we wanted to serve may be forced out due to higher costs."
Netherton estimated that the increase could reduce the number of out-of-state students from 3,700 (10 percent of the student population) to about 1,050 (3 percent).
Hecklinger said the impact of the increase on NVCC also depends on how much tuition rises at other area colleges, and on how much Congress cuts student financial aid programs.
"If it will be expensive for students to go to other schools and loans are cut back," he said, "we may get a good number of new students here for their first two years of college."