“The Most Massive Tuition Increase in Virginia History”

VCU President Michael Rao

Virginia Commonwealth University pulled a fast one last week. In announcing the tuition increases approved by the Board of Visitors Friday, the administration omitted explicit mention of a not insignificant item — the fact that the tuition and fees paid by incoming freshmen and transfer students taking a normal course load next year will be 21% higher than entering students in the current year.

That, former VCU Dean Robert D. Holsworth was quoted in the Times-Dispatch as saying, amounts to “the most massive increase in tuition in Virginia history.”

VCU spun the story as a modest 4.2% increase in tuition for current in-state students, along with a complex restructuring of the tuition system from a flat charge per semester to a charge based on the number of credit hours. But depending upon the particular scenario, says Holsworth, one of only two board members to vote against the tuition package, some students could wind up paying 27% more!

So much for Governor Bob McDonnell’s request to Virginia universities to hold tuition hikes to the inflation rate (1.5% in the past 12 months). And so much for the governor influencing higher ed policy through his appointments to boards of visitors. Twelve of VCU’s 16 board members are McDonnell appointees. Only two members — Holsworth and Alexander B. McMurtrie — opposed the package.

Predictably, VCU administrators blamed cutbacks in state support for higher education. State support for VCU fell from $225.6 million in 2007, before the Great Recession, to $186.9 million in the current fiscal year, a decline of $38.7 million. (I pulled those numbers from state budget documents. VCU president Michael Rao put the decline at $52 million.)

What the administration did not stress in public comments is the fact that the university more than made up the difference by hiking tuition and other charges. Other (non-state) spending increased $169 million in Fiscal 2007 to $828 million in Fiscal 2014. That sufficed to increase overall VCU revenues by about 15% over that same seven-year period compared to cumulative inflation of 13%.

Next year’s tuition increase will make VCU less affordable and accessible to the first-generation college students the university has served in the past, Holsworth said. VCU students already shoulder the second heaviest debt load upon graduation in the state. These aggressive hikes could well push it into the No. 1 spot. “My concern is about the students and parents,” he told me. “Does anyone institutionally speak for those families any more?”

According to the T-D, President Rao said that the only alternative to the tuition increase would be “to lower our ambitions.”

The VCU board action kept alive the institution’s ambition, like that of every other college and university, to rise in the esteem of students, faculty, peers and the U.S. News & World-Report annual rankings. As for the desire of future students to graduate without crippling debt, they’ll have to adjust their ambitions a little lower.

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15 responses to ““The Most Massive Tuition Increase in Virginia History””

  1. larryg Avatar

    they’re basically selling a product of which demand is still strong. There are academic-focused, limited sports schools that offer more modest quality educations but they are the wallflowers at the dance.

    as long as parents and kids are willing to go into hock to go for the total college experience – demand is not going to slacken.

    I look at two kids, one whose parents nor him/her are willing to go into hock to the tune of 20-30-40K and another whose parents and him/her are – and what happens to them 4-5-6 years later when they get a job and one starts out in life relatively debt-free and the other has 20-30 years of debt repayment.

  2. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    There seems to be a pattern here.

    Absent pulling it out entirely by the root, the plant will continue to grow and bloat until its water is shut off.

  3. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Thank you, Lift. That is an excellent article.

    Higher Education today is corrupt top to bottom. It has very little to do with educating our children. Much less doing so at a price they can afford.

    Rather higher education today has everything to do with feeding off our children and their families to enrich those in the business of higher education.

    In addition, should one look behind these federal student loan programs, for only one of many examples, you will find a constant and on going effort to expand the reach and power of the federal bureaucracy ever deeper into the education of our children, all intended to serve bureaucratic interests.

  4. larryg Avatar

    Parents and kids are willingly signing up for the debt. You might blame the govt for encouraging people getting the loans but how do go from that to this:
    ” you will find a constant and on going effort to expand the reach and power of the federal bureaucracy ever deeper into the education of our children, all intended to serve bureaucratic interests.”

    i’m not following ….how we got from education loans to the govt seeking to get “deeper” into education… to serve bureaucratic interests….

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Larry, in researching earlier articles posted on this site, I came across proposals on rewriting the student loan laws that would in my view would deeply intrude into areas of school operation beyond the reasonable scope of the federal government.

      Much of it is akin to the nonsense one finds in the accreditation process. I did not follow up on this stuff because it wasn’t directly related to the articles I was researching. It’s all there to find however if someone wants to dig into it. And of course it’s no surprise, given that whenever the government hands out money, you will find those trying to manipulate the government program for personal advantage. That reality has been around since the Greeks of course.

  5. larryg I’m not sure that “willing” is what students and parents are, so much as either
    1. terrified NOT to procure higher education, at nearly any cost
    2. lulled into finding the debt acceptable because it has been completely normalized.
    This news of VCU’s tuition hike is more alarming to me than allegations re: IRS/Tea Party, and that’s pretty bad. More alarming because the damage of overpriced higher ed reaches across the country, across generations, and across economic sectors, now and in the future.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      It’s also extremely wide spread – and goes much farther down the food chain than most people imagine. Indeed, it’s often the case that the tuition and debt are higher the lower the rating of the institution. These are really the most abusive sort of predatory practices going on in plain sight against the most vulnerable. The damage being done is horrendous.

    2. larryg Avatar

      maybe. but Johnny is normally not going to buy a 40-50K car and go into hock, because he “needs” transportation. He’ll more likely get a used one or even a new one for cheap. Maybe the real dunderheads will do it but most won’t.

      you can do the same thing with education. you do not have to buy the most expensive brands much less go into debt up to your eyeballs to do it.

      There are less expensive alternatives to getting a good, solid education, but we persist in going for the high-dollar Cadillac plans – going into hock to buy them.

      People DO have ALTERNATIVEs and the high dollar schools KNOW this and their attitude is that as long as people are willing to pay for the high-priced spread that they’ll offer those programs.

      higher tuition means they can offer more courses, more degree paths, better sports programs, etc… more things to attract those who want more than some boring but respected smaller institution.

      there are much less expensive, minimum footprint schools – that people do ignore and go into hock for the higher priced ones.

      they are not forced to do this. they are not panicked into it..they choose it. It’s like getting the “cool” clothes that all their friends have. It’s not cool to buy clothes that are not in style…. so the goal is to go to a “name” school.

      no magic here. people want “name” schools and they are willing to pay through the nose – just like they are for trendy clothes – to go there.

      and the “name” schools know this and are taking full advantage of it.

      How Reed blames this on government is beyond me…though…

  6. larryg Avatar

    to give an example, check out this College Affordability Tool:


    this is what it generates for lowest cost colleges:

    South Texas College TX 88 $325
    Sitting Bull College ND 90 $1,152
    Texas A & M International University TX 90 $1,255
    Colegio Universitario de San Juan PR 81 $1,374
    Elizabeth City State University NC 93 $1,442
    Indian River State College FL 67 $1,756
    California State University-Dominguez Hills CA 69 $2,018

    this is just a smattering….. but significantly there are none in Virginia.

    is this a Federal govt problem or a Virginia problem Reed?

  7. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    By most any measure, It’s a national problem of huge proportion.

    Relative to the rest Virginia is doing great. Its country miles better than most all States in the the Union by any measure of success.

  8. larryg Avatar

    Virginia looks terrible in the affordability rankings. there are no real “affordable” colleges in Va comparable to many other states especially for kids who get good grades.

    In Virginia, a kid that gets a straight A average in a poor county in RoVa with poor parents has what options in Virginia for a 4yr college without going into major debt?

    If Virginians are going to be taxed to support higher ED in Virginia, there should be guaranteed college tuition for financially-destitute kids that compile a solid academic record in High School – no if, ands, or buts about it – every higher ed in Va should have to provide a free or near free college education for him/her – as a condition of receiving state aid and if that don’t work then the state should pay the kid directly out of the college state aid – whatever he has to pay. In other words, he gets a free education or the college gets it’s aid reduced by the amount they charge the kid.

    It’s nothing short of a scandal when we have young people who are capable of learning and excelling that give up because they know they have no chance of attending college unless they get a sports scholarship – so that’s what the poor in urban schools shoot for – not academic achievement.

    Reed – I still do not see how the Federal govt is involving itself inappropriately in higher ed. You keep making this accusation in the context of discussions about State colleges charging too much for tuition but you supply no specifics… just generalized anti-govt sentiment.

  9. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Larry, see today’s Wall Street Journal article “Feds to Students: You Can’t Say That” written by Greg Lukianoff, for one of endless examples.

  10. larryg Avatar

    Reed – this is little more than virulent right wing blather published in a publication that is owned by the same people who own FOX news.

    you should note when reading it what is actual documented fact and what is his view of what something means.

    this is not reasonable commentary but more important than that – what the hell does this have to do with state colleges raising tuition fees?

    why does everything default to ” govt is evil” guy?

  11. robertjrubin Avatar

    finally notice this — I had a choice between VCU and about 13000 a year for engineering (we would be borrowing about 12000/year) or an excellent (top 50) ranked private school in NYC at 55000 per year where we would be borrowing 17000/year.

    we chose the latter primarily inpsired by the tuition increase at VCU

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