Students heading to public Virginia colleges and universities this fall can take some consolation that the increase in tuition and fees they will have to swallow will be “only” 4.1% — barely half the previous year’s increase of 7.9%.
Adjusted for a 1.7% increase in the Consumer Price Index, that’s a real increase of “only” 2.7%. Thus, higher education in Virginia is still an inflation-ridden mess but the crisis has deescalated from Zimbabwe… to Argentina!
The numbers were released by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia this afternoon, and Governor Bob McDonnell was quick to claim his share of credit for the moderating trend. Stated the governor in a press release (not yet online): “This year’s low tuition and fee increases were possible due in large part to … the allocation of $230 million additional general fund support to Virginia’s public higher education institutions in the 2012-14 biennium.”
Really? Public universities are getting an average of $115 million more a year, college affordability has become a national crisis, student loans have shot past the $1 trillion mark, the global economy is slowing down, and Virginia universities still jacked up tuition and fees by an inflation-adjusted 2.7%?
“This year’s reduced tuition increases,” opined McDonnell, “will help make higher education more affordable and more accessible for Virginia students and their families.”
No, they won’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the real average hourly earnings for all employees grew 0.4% in the 12 months ending June 2012. That’s right — four tenths of one percent. Assuming Virginia earnings trends were in line with national averages, that means it will be 3.7% harder to pay college bills next year.
Here’s an idea. After a 7.9% increase in tuition and fees last year, how about a friggin’ rollback this year?
The press release was full of self-congratulatory pap from an assortment of legislators and dignitaries. Said Sen. Thomas K. Norment, R-Williamsburg: “I thank the college presidents, the governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly for putting in the work to make today’s announcement possible?”
Added Thomas Farrell, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment: “While work remains to increase access to higher education for all Virginians, today’s announcement of decade-low tuition increases marks a significant step in the right direction.”
Incredible. Virginia’s political class is totally out of touch. Ordinary Virginians can only hope that outside forces — online education, innovative business models, a consumer revolt, or all of the above — will thoroughly disrupt the system of higher education and replace it with something more responsive to consumers.