The Washington Post

William and Mary’s tuition two-step: Raise prices for freshmen, then freeze for four years

Tuition and fees for new Virginia students at the College of William and Mary in the next school year will be 14 percent higher than the in-state price for current freshmen, echoing a major increase approved the year before.

The public college in Williamsburg is also continuing for a second year its unusual guarantee that tuition will not rise for in-state students in the four years after they enroll.

Under a budget that the college’s governing board approved late last month, tuition and fees for Virginians in the Class of 2018 will total $17,656. For those in the Class of 2017, the total is $15,463.

Those figures do not include room and board or aid for students in financial need. In 2013, William and Mary adopted a new tuition model, featuring a four-year price guarantee, in an effort to boost its financial aid budget, raise faculty salaries and take other steps to compete with elite private institutions.

Previously, William and Mary had taken the approach used by most colleges: raise tuition every year for all students. College officials say the new strategy has paid off.

“I can’t find anything I would point to that’s been negative with this,” Samuel Jones, the college’s vice president for finance, said Wednesday.

Jones said the college raised faculty salaries an average of 6 percent last year and is planning another increase soon, which will help William and Mary compete with other highly ranked schools. In addition, he said, the incoming freshman class is expected to have about 1,520 students, 50 more than the previous year. Most of the growth is planned to expand the number of coveted slots for Virginia students. In addition, financial aid this year will grow about 10 percent.

College officials said admissions data show that demand for William and Mary remains strong despite the price increase for new students.

William and Mary, founded in 1693, is the nation’s second-oldest college, after Harvard. Last fall it counted 8,376 graduate and undergraduate students. Tuition and fees for out-of-state students in the next school year will be $39,916.

Sandy Baum, a scholar at George Washington University and the Urban Institute who is an expert on college pricing, said William and Mary’s method has been tried elsewhere, including at public universities in Georgia and Illinois. GWU also offers a price guarantee for incoming students.

“The advantage is, it’s a marketing tool, right?” Baum said. “ ‘We promise you that you will not face tuition increases.’ If it makes families happy, that’s good for them. People are comforted by it. That’s why it’s appealing for colleges.”

William and Mary’s in-state price is the highest among Virginia’s public universities. In-state tuition and fees at the University of Virginia in the next school year will be $12,998, up 4.3 percent from the current year. The in-state price at the University of Maryland and several other public universities in Maryland is expected to rise about 3 percent. The public St. Mary’s College of Maryland approved a 7 percent in-state price cut for next school year, to $13,824.

On Wednesday, public George Mason University in Northern Virginia announced that its in-state tuition and fees for undergraduates will rise 4.8 percent in the next school year, to $10,382. GMU, with 33,917 students as of last fall, is the state’s largest public university. Last year, GMU raised its in-state price about 3 percent.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.



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