Tuition Stable but College Costs Still Up

Increase in tuition & Fees for full-time in-state undergraduate students in 2019-20. Source: SCHEV

Thanks to an increase in state support, Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities held tuition mandatory E&G (education and general) fees stable this year for in-state undergraduates. However, according to the latest Tuition & Fees report from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the total cost of attendance including room, board, and fees for auxiliary services will increase 2.2% for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Drivers of the cost increases are a 3.5% increase in the cost of room & board, accounting for about 44% of the total cost of attendance, and a 4.1% increase in mandatory non-E&G fees. It’s hard to see how those increases are justified, given the fact that the Consumer Price Index has increased only 1.6% over the past 12 months.

Did Virginia’s college administrators shift costs — perhaps in the form of administrative charges and overhead — to those line items so they can say they held the line on tuition and mandatory fees? Perhaps SCHEV could look into that question.

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9 responses to “Tuition Stable but College Costs Still Up

  1. Colleges and universities are authorized to issue debt for the construction of buildings that are not eligible for tax-supported debt. A student center is one example of this type of debt. These are revenue bonds and the revenue to support them are derived from non E&G student fees. The institutions have issued a lot of this debt in the past few years (when I get a chance, I will post a list of the projects). Although the General Assembly must approve the issuance of this debt, the legislature seldom questions the requests from the higher ed institutions.

  2. Dick – it sounds like you’re on to something. New dorms, dining halls, student unions, sports venues, etc are popular items for prospective students.

    I’ve noticed that UMW in Fredericksburg, for example, has been on a building spree for several years now and a number of spiffy new buildings including upscale dorms have gone up.

    I wonder if you provide that data on a per institution basis – it might correlated with increased costs?

  3. The chart that Jim included in his post illustrates a fact that will probably surprise a lot of people. There is much attention and complaints directed at college tuition, but, on average, tuition and mandatory E&G fees constitute only 37.5 percent of the total cost. Room and board cost more than tuition! I have commented before that I have little sympathy regarding the room and board costs. If colleges and universities are correct that they have to have fancy dorm rooms and food courts with lots of choices from national brand-name caterers in order to compete for students, then parents have primarily themselves to blame.

  4. Indeed. So all this ranting is about costs that are not tuition AND it’s a choice that people make as opposed to mandatory as part of attendance?

    I thank Jim for breaking out the numbers but I ding him for his “when did you change the way you beat your wife” question about shifting cost increases from tuition to room & board.

    Oh and let me also ask of the UVA grads here – how many lived in frat houses or off campus when they attended?

    • Dorm housing and the food plan are not always optional, Larry. (And since you asked, not a UVA grad but did live off campus one year at W&M because a housing shortage had set up a housing lottery and because my military retiree dependent status allowed me into the Fort Useless commissary, buying food for the whole apartment. In those days the price differences were major.)

      I’m sure when the college debt figures are closely examined, living costs put on the credit card also play a major role. When I first moved downtown a decade ago I was surprised at the bar culture fed by VCU students. Nobody in my day had money for that kind of high living…

  5. “So all this ranting is about costs that are not tuition AND it’s a choice that people make as opposed to mandatory as part of attendance?”

    Combined mandatory tuition and fees are about 56% of total cost, not 37.5% as Dick suggested. He was only looking at Tuition and Mandatory E&G fees.

    • Izzo – what are balance of included total costs? Reed

    • Yes, the mandatory non-E&G fees combine with tuition to increase the mandatory cost. The point I was making was that it is not the tuition costs that people should be complaining about. Higher ed institutions pack a lot into those non-E&G fees and it is difficult to learn what one is paying for with those fees. There needs to be more examination of those fees.

      • Excellent point, Dick. And its typical of opaque university accounting designed to hide what is really going on. Although I also assert that people should be complaining a great deal to about skyrocketing tuition, as I believe that far less that half of tuition charges go toward direct teaching of students and instead are siphoned off to benefit specific interests within the university itself that benefit those who run and control it.

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