Frank Wagner Calls for College Tuition Freezes

Frank Wagner, Republican candidate for governor, calls for college tuition freeze.
Frank Wagner. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, has called for a tuition freeze for public colleges and universities in Virginia as soon as the state economy improves and revenues start climbing again. Moreover, in a speech delivered Friday on the Senate floor, he proposed restrictions on the funding of for financial assistance to out-of-state students.

While many General Assembly members spoke out in the 2017 session against runaway tuition increases, Wagner is the first candidate for statewide office — he’s one of four running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — to advocate a tuition freeze.

Over the last decade, he said, tuition and fees at the University of Virginia, Christopher Newport University and Virginia Commonwealth University have more than doubled, while the cost has tripled at the College of William & Mary.

“We have to stop balancing the budget on the backs of Virginia’s college students,” said Wagner. “This path is unsustainable for Virginia students and their families and for society as a whole.”

Wagner proffered several possible remedies. He backed a “freeze” in tuition and fees, adding that tuition and fees should not increase during the four years a student is in school. Roughly half the increase in tuition (though not fees, room or board) can be attributed to cuts in state funding. As the economy improves, he said, state tax revenues from improved economic growth should be “set aside for colleges and universities so we can reduce the burden on the students.”

He also recommended capping tuition increases either by the Consumer Price Index or the National Wage Average Index, declaring, “There has to be some nexus between what our colleges and universities need to operate and what is happening in the real world.”

In a related issue, Wagner suggested prohibiting the use of in-state tuition revenue for the purpose of providing financial assistance, and prohibiting the use state tax revenue or debt proceeds toward financial assistance for out-of-state-students. While Virginia institutions provide almost as much financial aid to out-of-state students as to in-state students (and more per recipient), the extent to which out-of-state aid is funded by tuition as opposed to other money sources is not clear, and he provided no specifics.

His gubernatorial campaign website provides no additional specifics.

Bacon’s bottom line: Wagner is leaving a lot of room for leeway here. A wage freeze is one thing, indexing tuition increases is another. He clearly thinks the state has a role in holding down rates by bolstering state aid to universities, but he sounds like he thinks universities bear some responsibility, too. He needs to get more specific about exactly what he’s proposing. But I’m betting he’ll get some traction. College tuition may not be not a top-tier issue like jobs and K-12 education, but it’s definitely a solid second-tier issue. It will be interesting to see how the public responds.

Update: State law already requires colleges to charge out-of-state students at least 100% of the cost of their education, including capital costs. In practice out-of-staters cover 160% of their costs on average, according to Peter Blake, director of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). Additionally, state law also prohibits the use of in-state tuition revenue for financial aid. The only state funding for out-of-state students is in the form of graduate financial aid, which often has a work component tied to it, Blake says.

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28 responses to “Frank Wagner Calls for College Tuition Freezes”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    This guy is an “R”? geeze .. now I know what’s happened to the Dems… the “R” have become “D”s!


  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    How about a ‘real’ Conservative idea?

  3. LocalGovGuy Avatar

    I had dinner with a Republican state Senator in Richmond a few nights ago.

    The state Senator told me that during this session, he received a total of zero, yes zero calls from parents in support of any legislation dealing with tuition or admissions at the state schools. However, he received well over 200 calls from alums and current parents (paying the freight) of U.Va. and William & Mary students asking him to oppose all of those bills. As he said, the reality is that no one cares about this issue from an “affordability” perspective. The only people that care are the ones bearing the burden of tuition and they’re actually opposed to these bills. The current parents and students at U.Va. and W&M want each school’s U.S. News ranking to go higher, and they’re happy to pay more in tuition to achieve that goal.

    He said it’s the same with the gerrymandering issue. How many of his constituents bothered to call him this year about all of the gerrymandering bills? 3. A grand total of 3. Let that sink in. For all of that propaganda campaign and hundreds of thousands spent, a state Senator got all of 3 calls about that issue this session.

    Want to know what he receives calls about? Taxes, guns, abortion, immigration, health care, marijuana decriminalization, and a lot of law enforcement officers called him about increasing State Trooper pay.

    He said there’s a lot of backstory to these higher ed issues. For instance, one of U.Va.’s most vocal critics in the Assembly this session just had a child receive an unfavorable admissions response from U.Va. That puts everything in a much different light, doesn’t it?

    1. Interesting anecdotal data. You and your senatorial source may be right that most people really don’t care.

      I’ve found in my personal conversations that many people do care, although perhaps not to the point where they are motivated to contact their local legislator. But I will readily concede that college affordability has not yet become a hot button issue like taxes, guns, abortion, etc.

      1. I find many very many people are very worried about college debt and being able to afford college in the general. It seems to hit them hard when they are a couple of years out. They aren’t thinking specifically about UVA for instance unless they are going through a specific process there.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          How about this:

          ” Best Value Colleges in Virginia”

          so here’s the question – if you look at the list above – you’re going to see that 4 years of college starts at 100K and goes up from there with the average loan amount being about 30K.

          is this “affordable”?

          if it is not – then how would/should we determine the definition of what IS afford able?

          and once we do that – then how to we make that happen? with or without govt?

          or are we looking for a Mercedes Benz for the price of a Toyota Yarus?

          we seem to be all over the map on this.

          is College more expensive than it should be?

          is that reflected in the cost of all College?

          if so.. is this something govt should fix?

          Why not have the State pull out of funding higher ed directly and give vouchers to students instead and let the students “shop” for the best deal?

          I thought that Conservatives like the idea of vouchers, no?

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    When you go to the Gov College Scoreboard for Virginia institutions – the top rated in terms of salary after attending is -you guessed it.

    Average Annual Cost – $17,863
    Graduation Rate – 94%
    Salary After Attending – $60,100

    Compare that to – say Liberty

    cost – $23,706
    Graduation Rate 50%
    Salary After Attending $35,600

  5. I think we struggle with this topic because there are really multiple issues, and we tend to blend them together. Going from most general to most specific:

    1) Is there a systemic or structural problem with higher education costs and should something be done about it?
    2) Should the General Assembly directly act on Virginia public college costs, e.g. through a tuition freeze?
    3) What should the University of Virginia do? Is its mission to provide affordable education to Virginians or is it free to pursue more ambitious goals.

    On the first one, I am convinced the answer is YES. College costs have significantly outpaced overall cost of living for 40 consecutive years and even outstrip health care. The U.S. spends more of its GDP on higher education than any other other OECD country yet has gone from 1st in college graduation rates in 1995 to 19th out of 28 by 2014. More than 45% of student loan borrowers are behind or in default and student loan debt has topped $1.2 trillion.

    On the second issue, I think the answer is NO. Boards are closer to the situation. The General Assembly should focus on its role in the systemic issue above and improving information available to students and parents. A lot of these General Assembly issues are similar to price controls, which pretty much never work.

    The third issue is a bit of an outlier, but discussing the mission of a college is relevant. Interestingly enough, I think this was already covered, then forgotten with the Higher Education Restructuring that laid out expectations in return for greater autonomy. . I am not aware if this agreement has lapsed. I gave my views elsewhere on UVA’s strategic options.

    1. The 2005 Restructuring Act has not lapsed. It is still in effect, universities are still filing reports, and SCHEV is still tracking data. Whether it actually affects institutional behavior is a very different question. The goals established by the legislation reflected the Warner administration’s priorities. Subsequent administration, I suspect, didn’t pay much attention.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well.. I simply cannot resist!

        Virginia universities tally up cost of unfunded federal mandates

        Neither Jones nor Colette Sheehy, U.Va.’s senior vice president for operations, would estimate how unfunded mandates contribute to the cost of higher education. But they agree there is a cost.

        U.Va. also has hired additional people to manage requirements, Sheehy said. “When the state doesn’t fund it, and they haven’t, where else do we get the money to pay for it but the students?”

        so the “Conservatives” don’t want “price fixing” but more regulation?

        Au Contraire!

      2. LocalGovGuy Avatar

        I believe that was some of the worst legislation the Assembly has passed in the past 30 years.

        I still firmly believe that the Commonwealth should have poured resources into VCU, ODU, and GMU and de-emphasized the other schools. U.Va. and William & Mary would like to go private, I have NEVER heard of any compelling public policy reason not to let them go private. None. The only rationale is this: upper class and upper middle class parents like to send their sons and daughters to a prestigious school on the cheap. That’s it. It’s a nice subsidy for the wealthy.

        You seem to want innovative ideas. Here’s one: U.Va. trades its Strategic Investment Fund to the state for privatization. All 2 billion goes to VCU, ODU, and GMU. I’d really like to support the idea of “affordability” in higher ed in Virginia. But I don’t think U.Va. and W&M are part of the problem or solution in the state. “Affordability” is investing in the 3 schools in the population centers of the state to give them capacity to educate more kids at a cheaper cost.

        If you want to know the real elephant in the room about that Warner era policy it is Virginia Tech. They were convinced that pouring state funding into Blacksburg and making Virginia Tech a “top 40” research university would lead to economic growth in that section of the state. Needless to say, the policy was a failure. There were plenty of people trying to convince them that the money would be far better spent at Mason. But, he campaigned on economic development for rural Virginia, so they made the decision to invest in VT.

        It is exceedingly difficult to justify pouring so much money into VT as compared to GMU. One can serve a lot more kids cheaply and produce far greater economic development opportunities. The other is extremely isolated and simply doesn’t have the capacity to become a major metro or economic development hub.

        If we want a higher ed policy that produces high graduation rates, a skilled workforce able to cooperate with employers in our major employment centers, and economic development opportunities from research, our best bet is to emphasize ODU, GMU, and VCU. So many people on here discount the effect of commuting on higher ed costs. It is an enormous savings for middle class families not to have to pay for room and board. Expanding the capacity of those 3 schools opens up more commuting options for 80% of Virginia kids attending college (Urban Crescent). Plus, it’s a way to put an end to chasing the ratings nonsense. As I’ve posted, U.Va. an W&M have the alums to play that game (and they’ll play that game regardless of what the Assembly does). Let them privatize and chase magazine glory all they want, just not on the state dime.

        GMU, VCU, and ODU are fine schools, but no one’s mistaking them for Harvard. However, public policy shouldn’t be geared towards “Harvard.” It should be focused on the ODUs and GMUs of the world. It should focus on educating a 21st century workforce and trying to ripen research funding into start ups and other economic development opportunities. Those 3 schools offer us an excellent opportunity. But we refuse to take it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          LocalGovGuy – do you know what the enrollment is in VaTech?

          30,000 +

          any way you cut that – it’s THE higher ed for that region and where would all those students go if not for VaTech?

          Every region needs a higher ed school BOTH as a path for higher ED – AND an economic development incubator.

          VaTech has programs that no other school in Va has – that are ideally suited to less dense locales – like Veterinary, Agriculture and the Smart Road.. to name three.

          Why not VaTech being the public high Ed option for that region?

          UVA has a significant Medical Center and research – with more than 200 million a year in Federal funding…

          I’m not opposed to whatever level of autonomy any of these schools want and I’m onboard with the idea that subsidizing Ivy for the wealthy and well-to-do is just wrong but only 3 options for the state is not good

        2. VCU and GMU (not sure about ODU) were “commuter schools” two or three decades ago. I suppose they are still to some degree, but both have emphasized creating the four-year residential college experience, and both want to vault into the ranks of the research giants. While UVa secretly wants to go private, VCU and GMU secretly (or not so secretly) emulate UVa.

          1. I believe studies showed that colleges with residential options (and life) graduated students at a higher rate than pure “commuter”. I think GMU, VCU, and ODU have indeed increased graduation rates over time as they have become somewhat more residential (although I haven’t done the research to verify).

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” The third issue is a bit of an outlier, but discussing the mission of a college is relevant.”

      is the word “perceived” in play?

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Izzo – I agree that there are several issues involved and that recognizing them is worthwhile but you still got things intertwined here.

    I still don’t think how much we spend on higher ed relative to other countries has much relevance but especially so if you do not take into account the cost of living in other countries.

    Further … I still do not see the connection between cost and graduation rates. how does cost affect graduation rate? Aren’t there high cost colleges with low grad rates but also low cost colleges with high grad rates?

    how do you get any kind of real correlation much less causation?

    Next, transparency of which we agree but how does transparency “work” other than people seeing the data and going to the GA to demand they do something or are you saying that the GA can do things OTHER than setting price?

    The third thing might be an outlier under normal conditions but with regard to UVA – others are saying that a central part of it’s MISSION … IS – “affordable” (lower cost) college so that part circles back to 1 and 2 via the cost issue.

    1. Larry,

      Geez. On another thread, you say our healthcare system is inefficient compared to other countries. You can see that by seeing that we spend a much higher percentage of our GDP on healthcare, but having the same or worse outcomes. I say the same thing here and you completely miss that point and make an irrelevant comment on cost of living.

      On graduation rates, you completely and utterly miss the context. If you spend more, which the U.S. does, but graduate a lower percentage, which the U.S. does, it means the U.S. is less efficient by that criteria. Simple as that. And you then you spin off into an irrelevant comment about correlation and causation.


      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Izzo – Welcome to LARRY’S WORLD!

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Izzo – just taking a measure of GDP does not mean that anything you the might compare it to – is valid.

        it makes no sense to compare spending on GDP with grad rate.. as you can easily find many counter examples. UVA… for example has a very high grad rate while lower cost colleges actually have lower grad rates..

        you just can’t take any two random variables and claim there correlation.

        I DID check on expenditures on higher ed (tertiary) and you are dead on – we spend more… but I’m pretty darn skeptical that there is a correlation with grad rate… We have LOTS of lower cost colleges in Va and their grad rates are lower also – you can find the other also high cost and high grad rate – take UVA.

        Do we actually have grad rate data for other OECD?

        1. Larry,

          You are thinking of grad rate as number that graduate at an institution divided by number who enter. What I am saying here that most other OECD countries are producing a higher percentage of college graduates overall now than the U.S. and are spending significantly less to do it. And we have dropped from 1st to 19th in less than 20 years.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            okay – a higher percent of grads of the population as in more folks attending college ? So other OECD nations have more college grads than us?

            the premise is that since college has gotten more expensive in the US than it has resulted in less grads while other countries college costs are still low and more people can afford and do attend and graduate?

            well clearly, I misunderstood !

            but I’m still skeptical.. until I see some data.

            how about some data ?

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Izzo – my understanding of Europe and other OECD countries is that their version of College is very different from ours. It’s not residential, more barebones, and a basic entitlement to all.

            If that’s true would we still be comparing apples to apples?

            but if you are advocating the European model, I’m all for it!

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Thought it might be interesting to note VaTech as a Land Grant University and show the others:

  8. Larry,

    This is what I was referring to:

    Not all OECD countries are in Europe. Not all European education is non-residential. In the U.S. not all education is residential. More than half in the U.S. live at home according to this:
    It isn’t an entitlement to all either across the board. In Germany, you would have had to have been placed in the Gymnasium track at 11-12 to go to university.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Izzo – good articles and thanks for providing them and they do seem to at least anecdotally support your position.

    and agree OECD is not just Europe, but includes Asia and Australia, NZ, etc but the big difference between OECD and US is College Sports

    It actually does look like the US actually GAINED from 33% to 39% percent and rather than falling behind – OECD got way better, right?

    I think we DO cost more – and yes cost has gone up – especially for the residential on campus option but we have many diverse other ways to attain college INCLUDING as your article points out – living at home to lower those costs.

    Finally , I DO SUPPORT – vouchers for basic tuition for the student – and for them to be able to “shop” for the best value for them and if that means UVA and others want to go private – so be it.. Our responsibility is to the students not the colleges and not to subsidize the residential on-campus option. Community college is by far a very affordable way for most kids to go and now some of the 4-year colleges are offering guaranteed admission to community college grads with good QCA.

    I’m just not in favor of subsidizing residential on campus at 4 year institutions… this actually IS one of those areas where the market can work – and I’m not in favor of the govt dictating top-down rules on costs or salaries, budgets, etc..

    this cost problem is not just at some institutions in Va.. it’s at most institutions in Va and Nationwide – primarily for that one option – on campus residential.. many other less costly options are available .

    here’s what I was looking at:

    OECD Population with tertiary education

    it shows the US at 11th.

    but go Google : “is tuition free in Germany”?

    yes there are several tracks in Germany but even the non-college track goes to technical schools to attain occupational certs..

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    Izzo – here’s another pretty interesting doc on OECD tuition costs and subsidies.

    How Much Do Tertiary Students Pay and What
    Public Subsidies Do They Receive?

  11. Larry, that is a great report. It does show that the way we do things in the U.S. is quite different and there may be something we can learn from what is working to get to higher ed 2.0 in the U.S. In Virginia, we just seem to kick around sledge hammer ideas like tuition freezes. I’d love to see some different thinking.

    On the earlier report you linked to, I think they were showing cumulative numbers, which places the U.S. higher because we have historically had comparatively high graduation rates. The one I referenced was saying, I believe, that if you are looking at the generation going through college now, we are not producing as many on a percentage basis as many other countries.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well thanks.. we both help to widen the context a bit which I think helps develop a better understanding of the issue.

    I still think there are a lot of options including much more affordable ones than the on-campus residential –

    I’m all for the bare-bones option for everyone who maybe otherwise could not afford college and I’m not so much for subsidizing “affordable” college for those with household incomes of 100K and more.

    I’d be fine with us offering OECD style cost options that provided everyone a basic opportunity and the lower number of attendees and grads in the US is a serious problem but it’s not primarily caused by not subsidizing “affordable” college for 100K households.

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