Message to VCU: Not Good Enough

In apparent deference to Governor Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors has revised its six-year plan to assume tuition increases averaging 5.5% annually rather than 12.1% per year in the plan approved last September. The decision will diminish the increase in funding to hire new faculty and staff to $18.1 million from $26 million, reports Karin Kapsidelis with the Times-Dispatch.

Well, that’s just jim dandy. McDonnell had asked Virginia colleges and universities to hold tuition hikes to the Consumer Price Index, which has been running around 2% per year since the end of the recession. Instead of exceeding the CPI increases sixfold, the board has moderated its rush to unaffordability to a mere two times the inflation rate. Blessedly, the article spared readers the self-congratulatory pap we hear from so many institutions.

Here’s what the VCU board needs to hear: That’s not good enough. McDonnell’s goal of limiting tuition hikes to the inflation rate is a lame target to begin with. Tuitions are already too high. Colleges and universities need to figure out how to roll them back.

American household incomes are declining. How can anyone in good conscience propose jacking up tuitions, forcing the tomorrow’s students even deeper into debt than the current cohort? Increasingly, people are questioning the value of higher education — not because it has no value but because of the diminishing return on the thousands of tuition dollars expended and years spent out of the labor force.

The board is playing a dangerous game. Some institutions, like the University of Virginia, can fall back upon their reputation for excellence. While VCU does have some stand-out programs, it does not have an overall reputation that will allow it to continue to push prices higher while others hold their fees down.

If VCU and other second-tier institutions don’t get the message, competitors — career schools, online education, entrepreneurs with innovative, low-cost business models, whatever — will chew them and spit them out.


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  1. What would be interesting would be for each college/university a graph with tuition increases on one axes and the value of govt-subsidized loans on the other.

    It is unconscionable for the Universities and Colleges to be increasing tuition at rates that are twice, three, four times the rate of inflation apparently with the concurrence and even encouragement of the state but as long as people can get loans, they will go along with it.

    We had an article about payday loans and discussions/disagreements about predatory practices verses financial illiteracy (for want of a better word).

    I think it is the same problem. People, that are young and/or vulnerable will make bad financial decisions if the money is available.

    Back in the day, it took a leap of faith to sign on a dotted line for 5K for an auto or 50K for a house. It was a LOT of money and it meant that folks would have to work – for years, even decades to pay it back.

    Now days, kids – and their parents, will commit their offspring to 30, 40, 50K in debt before they even have a job.

    These would often be the same people who blather on about the Fed govt passing horrible debt on to their children.

    Now days,we screw ourselves, and blame others.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    VCU started becoming strangely delusional under its previous president, Eugene Trani. He did build up the university tremendously through bricks and mortar projects and it was supposedly Michael Rao’s job to fill the new buildings with academic excellence.

    I haven’t seen much evidence of it. A year ago, VCU’s basketball team made it to the Final Four and one would have thought the Son of God had chosen Richmond for the Resurrection. B-ball actually saved Rao’s floundering VCU career. He almost got fired for making staffers sign confidentiality agreements and letting his wife run the president’s office.

    Team Richmond banded together and remade Rao. But,as this good blog posting notes, apparently not enough.

  3. Peter touched on something that I think is worth noting and that is the importance and significance of competitive sports with regard to universities and colleges.

    So I ask this question: suppose we had a University that was top tier academically but sucked at sports or had no sports program at all except for intra-mural or similar.

    How would that University fare in terms of attracting students and being recognized as a major academic institution worthy of choosing over others that had well known sports programs?

    So my question is one in which I ask, in effect, if we as a society, are encouraging values other than academic, in our institutions of higher education.

    I think “we” ourselves have been instrumental in the perversion of higher education.

    We no longer value a “good” education as much as we value the NAME of the institution and if it is an unknown entity even if it has excellent academic standards and performance.. it is relegated to a status much lower than the “name brand” institutions.

    In other words, it is US that is willing to pay more for “name” colleges and Universities – otherwise they’d never get away with it.

  4. Larry, as colleges becomes increasingly unaffordable, I suspect that more Americans will conclude that attending a college that offers a major sports experience is optional.

    I wonder how much athletics is supported by universities in China, India and, for that matter, even Europe, and at what cost.

    Men’s football and basketball are positive revenue generators for most universities, so it’s hard to put the blame on them for fiscal stress. But athletic programs generally, I believe, are major cost centers and money losers. Of course, they also are great for building tribal loyalty around an educational institution and winkling contributions from alumni, so, viewed broadly perhaps, they may be money makers.

    It’s all very complicated. But citizens need to begin asking the tough questions.

  5. Jim – do you really think that the sports arms of Universities do not affect and influence the non-sports part of the University?

    Look at Penn State. How many other Universities policies and culture are influenced by their sports programs even if they are “self-supporting”?

    And a challenge question for anyone who wants to take it on:

    Name the top 3 Academic Universities that DO NOT have well-recognized sports programs. MIT is one for sure. How many do we know of in Va?

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