The College of William and Mary’s governing board approved on Friday a 14 percent increase in annual tuition and fees for new Virginia students, one of the largest hikes in recent years among the region’s marquee public universities.
The increase — setting the price for incoming students at $15,463 — is part of a new tuition model that officials say will allow the school to retain its elite academic stature and bolster aid for those in need. The tuition for entering students will be locked in for the next four years, but newcomers in 2014 will face another big jump in price that will then hold steady for their four-year college careers.
Higher education institutions nationwide will probably keep a close watch on the pricing overhaul. Like all public universities, William and Mary is facing serious fiscal pressures. Officials at the nation’s second-oldest college say the new tuition structure will allow them to keep professor salaries competitive with those at top-flight private schools. But they also say it will allow middle-income families to pay less out of pocket than they do now, with students taking on less debt.
By comparison, the University of Virginia’s governing board Thursday approved an increase of about 4 percent in tuition and fees for in-state students, to $12,458. The University System of Maryland has not set tuition for the fall term, but the Board of Regents expects to consider proposals for in-state increases of about 3 percent.
For current William and Mary students, the annual in-state price increase will be about 2 percent.
William and Mary’s tuition action came less than two weeks before the May 1 deadline for college-bound high school seniors to choose where they will enroll.
To avoid sticker shock for prospective students, the college is “going to need to do a really good job of communicating this out in an understandable way to families so they can see the value in it,” said Judith K. Hingle, a college and career specialist for Fairfax County public schools, which send more than 200 graduates a year to William and Mary. Hingle said some parents may find fixed tuition appealing. But she added, “It’s that first big jump that’s going to be the hard sell for them.”
William and Mary officials plan a communications blitz that will stress the four-year tuition guarantee and the prospect of increasedfinancial aid for many middle-income students. Officials said a family of four with two students in college and $100,000 in annual income would pay a net price of $1,000 less per year for William and Mary tuition than it would now.
The college’s Board of Visitors also approved significant in-state tuition increases and four-year guarantees for the classes that will enter in 2014 and 2015. By fall 2015, the tuition for incoming Virginia students will be about $3,500 higher than the rate set for fall 2013.
The overhaul is intended to counter a fiscal strain felt by public universities everywhere, as states cut back on the dollars devoted to higher education.
“What they’re doing is pricing more the way private colleges price, right?” said Sandy Baum, an expert on higher education finance who is a scholar at George Washington University. “It’s reasonable that a school would do that. What they’re saying is, ‘We’re going to get more money from in-state students that can afford to pay.’ ”
About 30 percent of William and Mary students qualify for need-based financial aid, officials said.
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.