Cutting Virginians No Slack: Colleges and Universities

Data source: State Council of Higher Education in Virginia

by James A. Bacon

The rocket-like ascent of college tuition in Virginia continues unabated, with tuition and fees across the state’s higher ed system averaging six percent in the 2015-2016 academic year, according to a new State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) report. That compares to an inflation rate of less than 1.0% between 2015 and 2014 and it outpaces the meager gains in average household income.

Prime offenders: Virginia’s elite universities, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, continuing to parlay their pricing power into higher tuition and fees at a remarkably aggressive rate.

As always, the universities turn to the excuse that state budget cuts made them do it. And, as the SCHEV report makes clear, the past year was a budgetary roller coaster and General Fund support for higher ed was cut by $45 million in each year of the biennium, for a total of 2.1%. But that accounts for only one percentage point of the 6% increase this year. Inflation accounts for another percentage point. That still leaves an unjustifiable increase of 4%.

Meanwhile, the indentured servitude of America’s college-educated youth, especially those whose parents aren’t affluent enough to foot the bill, continues apace. Student debt is accumulating as rapidly as the national debt, now exceeding $1.3 trillion.

If there is a consolation to this dismal news, according to WalletHub, one of the nation’s leading purveyors of listicles, Virginia students are less debt-ridden than the national average. Compiling metrics on the percentage of students with debt, the average size of that debt, debt as a percentage of income, post-college employment rates and delinquent loans, Virginia’s college students rank 6th best off in the country. That is a testimony to the fact that, relatively speaking, Virginia institutions of higher ed are less rapaciously exploitative  than their peers in other states. (Yes, that’s the sound of one hand clapping.)

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  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    here is the chart I’d like to see for Virginia colleges:

  2. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    A few points:

    1.) As you mention in your final paragraph: You have to examine financial aid when you look at these numbers. Until you see financial aid stats, it’s tough to make any sense of the numbers.

    2.) How do these numbers compare to private universities and how do financial aid packages compare to private universities?

    3.) Most in higher ed will tell you that Forbes Rankings are the best for determining “value” in terms of the consumer (student). Here’s a link to their methodology which is heavily slanted towards the consumer:

    In the Forbes rankings you find that Washington and Lee is the 29th best college (of any size, which is different than the U.S. News rankings which rank the schools based on research universities and then liberal arts colleges/regional colleges) in America (27th best private school). You find that U.Va. is the 36th best college in America and the 20th best research university (which is what is its U.S. News equivalent rank). You find that William and Mary is the 39th best college in the nation and would rank 22 in its U.S. News equivalent rank.

    So whether your focus on more academic (U.S. News) or consumer oriented (Forbes), Virginia has some high ranking schools.

    Then there’s Money Magazine which claims to measure the best value based on ROI and academic “value-added” criteria:

    Virginia has 6 of the top 75 colleges in Money’s rankings.

    So in terms of “Value” and consumers (Forbes and Money) rather than the often-scoffed academic rankings (U.S. News), Virginia’s schools do well. Which either leads to the conclusion that the schools are providing a good value for the service provided or that the topline tuition number that you posted probably isn’t close to the real number that kids are paying in tuition.

    I have my hunches as to the “real story”….As “much” as tuition may be going up…..I know an Assistant Dean at the Comm School at U.Va. who told me about some of the eye-popping offers that kids have received in 2014 and 2015. My guess is that the students at the top undergrad business, computer science, and engineering schools in the Commonwealth really don’t care about the tuition line. I also tend to think that if your undergrad degree got you into one of the top professional or grad schools in the country, you probably don’t see that tuition line as a bad investment.

  3. …fyi Gov McAuliffe just talked about this issue on WTOP’s Ask the Governor program last week (I missed the show but I did listen to the audio file on He was saying also that out-of-state students get some admission preference as they are paying more tuition. Believe the Gov said he was meeting with all the college presidents last week.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    As much as this should concern you now, do a little projecting and see what the situation will be if we have another decade where the tuition and mandatory fees (don’t forget the fees) are increasing double or triple the underlying rate of inflation. There is no reason to doubt it will happen. There is zero political will to 1) pour in more state dollars or 2) exercise the state’s legal authority to control spending and prices. We will soon see if there is political will to keep UVA and W&M from going private entirely.

    As Cville Resident noted (is that you, President Sullivan?), if you can win the lottery and come out of the top business graduate program, you can handle the debt. I’m not so sure about the people we need to be teachers, accountants and engineers. Even med school grads now are crushed by debt. For every student with an eye popping offer there are three who can’t afford an apartment, let alone a house, because of the debt. I would much prefer that the schools were a bit less concerned about their rankings and far more concerned about producing graduates who were not economically crippled on day one.

    It doesn’t have to cost this much. I spent four years peeking behind the curtain myself. I’ve read the JLARC reports. It shouldn’t be free and it will never be cheap, but it doesn’t have to cost this much. Why do we put up with it? Raise a little hell, Virginia.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Good comments. Glad to see you back.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: for every one, there are 3…

    I’d say more like 1 in 100…

    ” Federal Aid’s Role in Driving Up Tuitions Gains Credence
    View long held by conservatives is being adopted by more mainstream economists; New York Fed study faults government aid for letting colleges boost prices” (just google the headline and you’ll get the article”

  6. That Virginia students carry less debt than some won’t last long–these data have a cumulative nature–with sustained double-digit increases at the publics for about a decade.

    Patting themselves on the back with the disclaimer “we’re still a great educational value” won’t hold up. If you look at the Forbes 2014 list, it calculates cost to attend UVA $56, 196. This is the high end for out of state students, but that’s no bargain.

    We’ve got to demand that our legislators place limits on spending by higher ed institutions. High tuition/high aid is a cycle with no ceiling until the loan bubble bursts.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      And frankly I am stunned at how far uva has fallen in the rankings (forget the public institution stuff) and who is ranked ahead of it. Look back at the 60s and see the rankings then (for gentlemen Cs) and my cost I recall was something like $900 a semester out of state.

  7. Helen Dragas was right.

    1. She’s still right.

      1. Cville Resident Avatar
        Cville Resident

        No. She’s about as wrong as you can get.

        She was hysterical over the Rolling Stone article. Um….hoax, anyone? Talk about looking like a moron with her comments about a hoax.

        She was a big pusher of online ed….which is already starting to fade away as a fad.

        Here’s a great article on Cal’s failed experiment, which is exactly what Dragas was pushing for U.Va. to do!:

        Boy would this blog be blowing up if U.Va. had gone down this course….”What a waste of millions of dollars”……..

        1. Interesting. I was a big promoter of online learning, although I freely admitted that the state-of-the-art would likely evolve as instructors learned through trial and error. I wonder if online learning is regarded as a failure, or just the MOOC (massively open online courses) variant of online learning. Liberty University seems to be thriving with its online learning — although I can’t help but wonder if there’s less than meets the eye there.

          Regardless, it does look like UVa’s decision to approach MOOCs and online learning cautiously has been wise.

          1. Cville Resident Avatar
            Cville Resident

            Here are my thoughts:

            Online learning is amazing for tasks. I’ve learned so much about home improvement and IT just by YouTube.

            But there’s the catch: Everything I’ve learned online has been in hour or less chunks. Plumbing problem? Minor electrical problem? Have an Excel problem? Youtube search it, and watch a 20 minute video…if you’re of average intelligence, you can now do a lot at home without calling a plumber/handyman.

            I think with “classroom” learning, we’ve been conditioned since we were 4 or 5 that we learn in a classroom. I think 90 to 95% of “online learning” fails not because of the product, but because we have certain grooves cut in our mind about how learning works. I’ve tried a couple of MOOCs…the problem is that I’m a working adult with many things on my mind. It’s hard to set in front of a computer for hours on end and not be distracted with everything else on my mind. However, I’m 100% convinced that if I was in the physical space of a classroom (as my mind is conditioned), I’d pay attention much more.

            I think online learning will only be effective in a higher ed setting when kids in elementary school become used to it rather than a classroom. Once that groove is drive into a mind, I expect online learning will be much more realistic in a higher ed setting. I think it’s more a product of conditioning rather than MOOCs or online learning itself.

            But that’s just me “venting my spleen” as you put it! ha ha

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            I think this is more like the initial stumble of the… which ended up being far bigger than anyone ever imagined even at the height of the boom…

            ” Liberty University is a private, non-profit Christian university located in Lynchburg, Virginia, United States, that describes itself as a Christian academic community. Liberty’s annual enrollment includes 13,800 residential students and over 100,000 online students as of May 2013.

            When including the number of people taking its online courses, LU is the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world, the nation’s largest private non-profit university and 7th largest four-year university, and the largest university in Virginia”

            and then this:

            ” Citizens call for broadband connection in county”

            The board [Pulaski County] voted Monday to approve a grant application to bring better access to high-speed Internet to the county. It’s a service that the more remote corners of the county lack, and several county residents came before the board to express their concerns about the lack of connectivity.

            Rebecca Scheckler, a Draper resident and instructor at Radford University’s School of Nursing, said the county’s lack of connectivity creates problems for those trying to pursue an education. She emphasized that many of her own students who live in Pulaski County are required to take online courses, and those who work from home are restricted by limited access to high-speed internet.

            “We live in an underserved medical area,” Scheckler said. “I’ve had to advise well-qualified candidates to not go into the [nursing] program because they don’t have good Internet access.”

        2. You are incorrect that Dragas pushed for online learning; she was displeased that the administration had been silent on the topic, giving BOV no information on where the university stood in its own online learning specturm. All schools are engaged in online learning; MOOCs are but one facet.

          As for RS, she was not alone in having a visceral reaction to the horrifying piece, hers happened in public. No matter. She’s right about the fiscal arrogance in higher ed and the need for reform.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Govt money – both at the Federal and State level is funding this lunacy.

    Federal govt loans should not go to pay for ANY subject or course desired. If someone wants to take music art or some other esoteric subject for which there is no demand in the market for – then that should be on the student not the the taxpayers providing loans.

    At the state level – higher ed funding should not pay for salaries, pensions or health care for pensions that are beyond a core set of basic courses that lead to jobs in demand in the market.

    Higher Ed should work more like the Va SOQs for K-12 work in that the State provides match money for core academic staffing but if a school wants to provide courses outside what the state will fund/match then that becomes the responsibility of the locality – not only the salary but the benefits, health care and benefits.

    Some might say that’s not fair. I would argue that if taxpayer money is being provided that it is more than fair.

    Everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dream but taxpayers should only be funding what will ultimately benefit the taxpayers longer term.

    The State funding should not go to pay salaries, pensions, other benefits of professors who are teaching specialty courses that have little or no demand or relevancy in the job markets.

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