UVa Gearing Up for Another Hike in Tuition & Fees


by James A. Bacon

Later this week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors will consider increasing tuition by 3% to 4% in the 2020-21 school year and jacking up fees between 3% to 6%. Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation showing the arguments and data that the administration presented the board in its November meeting.

As usual, the UVA administration blames tuition increases on declines in state support for higher education.  “Responsibility for funding educational costs has shifted from the taxpayer to the student,” states one slide. “Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds, leaving a gap of $3,648 per student in 2020-2021.”

While those numbers may justify tuition increases in previous decades — UVa bases its calculations on trends going back to 1990-91 — it overlooks the fact that between 2012 and 2018 (the latest year for which I could obtain data from UVa’s annual financial reports), state support increased by $20 million even while academic (non-hospital) spending increased by $511 million! (See support for these numbers here.) The state is to blame for higher tuition? Really? In what universe?

The UVA administration assumes that the General Assembly will hold state support constant in 2020-21 while the university faces continued cost increases: $8.6 million for faculty merit increases, $8.4 million for staff merit increases, and $14.9 million inflationary cost for non-personal services.

Question: If the major cost drivers, faculty and staff salaries, are increasing 3% and non-personal services are increasing 2%, how do you justify a tuition increase of up to 4% and fees of up to 6%?

Here’s another question: Refer to the chart above, taken from the UVa Powerpoint presentation to the board. The breakdown of costs attributes 42% of every dollar to faculty salary and benefits. Do you see a comparable breakdown for “staff salary and benefits?” No, either do I. The only hint of staff costs appears in the 6 cents for “general administration.” Six percent for administrative overhead doesn’t sound so bad. But if the administration needs an extra $8.4 million for staff raises — almost identical to the $8.6 million in faculty raises — one must conclude that staff in actuality constitutes about 40% of total cost. In other words, the full cost of administrative overhead is marbled through all the other categories seen in the breakdown.

Has the cost of administrative overhead, either in absolute numbers or percentage terms, increased or decreased over the years? The UVa administration does not seem to think such a question worthy of asking. Nor  does it provide data that allows us to calculate the answers.

Similarly, has the cost of faculty, either in absolute numbers or percentage terms, increased or decreased over the years? That question seems especially relevant in the context of the fact that 7% of academic expenditures go to graduate teaching assistants. What is the trend line for faculty productivity? How much work are faculty members dishing off to grad students? Again, the administration does not see fit to ask the question, much less answer it.

Meanwhile, let’s look at some other areas where UVa is spending more money. Here are projects funded by the university’s 100%-discretionary Strategic Investment Fund:

Click to enlarge.

Do you see any funds in there designed to promote affordability? Gee, neither do I.

We also read in a press release yesterday that UVa has joined the College of William & Mary to achieve the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. The partnership is part of UVa’s 2020-30 Sustainability Plan, which also will be presented to the Visitors this week. Nowhere does the press release include a dollar figure on how much the initiative will cost or where the money will come from.

Clearly, UVa has many different priorities — holding the line on tuition simply isn’t one of them.

The UVa Board of Visitors has a lot of really smart, successful people. You’d think one or two would ask President Jim Ryan some tough questions about burgeoning expenditures and ever-higher tuition & fees. I look forward to seeing the media coverage of the board meeting later this week. I’d love to read that someone broke ranks and held Ryan’s feet to the fire. But I’m not counting on it.

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30 responses to “UVa Gearing Up for Another Hike in Tuition & Fees

  1. Go, Reed, go — have at it!

  2. What accountability does the Board of Visitors have for anything? This is a near perfect shell game. The General Assembly should be accountable for Virginia’s public universities providing affordable educations to Virginians. However, they shirk that responsibility while pointing at the Board of Visitors as the accountable party. But who holds the Board of Visitors accountable? Nobody. Anytime the cost to attend the University of Virginia goes up by more than the rate of inflation (net of changes in state support) the Board of Visitors should be disbanded and a new board constituted. No members of the former board should be eligible for any board in Virginia for a period of 10 years.

  3. It is Giving Tuesday. May I suggest that you direct a gift to Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust https://www.pcapt.org/ They keep ringing the alarm, trudging the halls of GA to get some legislative attention, and have a tool for training trustees to better understand their responsibility and commitment. I no longer give to UVA, they have $10B and don’t need my little gift.

    It’s clear who is NOT responsible for the cost of tuition and fees: administrators who refuse to manage spending and contain costs in keeping with a budget. Why would they, there is seemingly no end to what they can get?

  4. I have, as they say, an “alternative” theory.

    It goes like this.

    Every year in our county, we are told that we MUST increase salaries for “staff’ , school teachers, deputies , etc.

    Why? Because that’s the “going rate” and if we don’t pay it, those folks will go to where the salaries are better.

    I think that’s what’s going on at the Universities also…

    All the power points are is pro-forma crafted messaging…….

    I wonder also, how many on the BOV are Conservative business folks verses “other” more liberal types? We might be able to test this theory by looking at the Conservative Colleges … Liberty, GMU, etc… Are they more fiscally conservative? Surely out of the thousands of Colleges – there are some run on very lean budgets and have very affordable tuition?

    • I don’t think the political ideology of the BoV members has much to do with anything. They’re all alumni, they’re all committed to advancing the mission of their universities, and they’re all captive to one degree or another to the information their administrators spoon-feed them.

      If you want to take a swipe at BoV members who do happen to be politically conservative, then go right ahead. They deserve it.

      • Oh I WOULD THINK that successful businessmen/women would be fiscally conservative. To think that they’d completely lose all of that and become “liberals” boggles the mind!

        • Look at BoV member Barbara Fried of the Fried Companies. A land development concern. Surprise, surprise. Over the years she has donated $1,300,750 to Democrats and $119,200 to Republicans.

          In 2019 Fried donated $149,100 to Democrats and $1,000 to Republicans

          ” … completely lose all that and become liberals …”

          Only your mind is boggled.

          • In general, people play fast and loose with other people’s money, less so their own. Political persuasion has little to do with this higher ed BOV issue.

            Barbara Fried develops in areas where Dems are in control, so…

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Lift says “In general, people play fast and loose with other people’s money, less so their own.”

            Lift hits core problem at UVA, one that requires independent, forceful, and effective Boards of Visitors. The chronic lack of such at UVA, sorely acerbated by Theresa Sullivan’s reinstatement in mid 2012, remains and festers today.

    • @LarrytheG Mitch Daniels at Purdue and Michael Crow at Arizona State Univ are cited as presidents who have aggressively managed costs at their institutions. Both are large public universities, I note.

      • I had such hopes for Sands at VT. Let’s see….

      • @Lift – yes – that’s two and I think there are more…. I just don’t accept the idea that anyone who gets appointed to the BOV just morphs into a “liberal”. Surely, they would take their responsibilities seriously, no?

        • Do you understand how this works? BoV members are appointed by the governor and then rubber stamped by the Clown Show. There is a review board but it’s an appointed organization as well. And Tim Kaine is well remembered for rewarding the nice man who provided his private island vacation home free to Tim Kaine with a re-appointment to the board of higher education which reviews BoV candidates.

          https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/remembering-tim-kaines-caribbean-vacation/

          Virginia has had a Democratic governor since Jan, 2014. That’s just under six years. Who do you think is getting nominated to the BoV positions as prior BoV members have their terms expire? Liberal, Democratic donors Larry. There’s no morphing. Take Robert M Blue, a Dominion executive. No doubt a conservative … right? Umm, maybe not. Blue is another frequent donor to Virginia politicians. And he has donated 4.55 times more to Democrats than Republicans over the years.

    • So what are the turnover rates? Anyone who has managed people understand that some turnover is part of operating an institution. On the other hand, if hardly anyone leaves, the compensation might be excessive. Similarly, if a lot o people are leaving, compensation might be inadequate. But, in any event, more study is needed. Why are people leaving? We need more facts before we sign off on big raises.

      Years ago, Fairfax County Schools claimed they needed higher pay because too many teachers were leaving and indicating pay was the reason they were leaving. I asked the question that for the last year that they had data, how many resigned teachers indicated they were leaving for pay. The answer was “zero.”

      I too support firing the Board of Visitors when tuition and fees increase faster than growth in inflation.

      • In our County – they DO have attrition rates because of our proximity to NoVa jobs which pay a lot more. But I think it’s similar in any industry including higher ed.

        There is a “going rate” for the jobs and ambitious folks will change to get the higher salaries and I suspect that some subjects in College have a lot of competition for qualified professors.

  5. It is like infecting the graduates with cancer, just sending them out into the world with their fate sealed, the debt they take on is so debilitating.

    Larry, you need another hobby.

    • Steve – Are we talking about tuition OR room & board or other?

      As someone who “got” a Degree without debt – but without having to pay room & board – I wonder just how much of the cost is actually for tuition.

      And no.. my “hobby” is guys like you!

    • I’m serious about the “Conservative” thing. There ought to be at least some balance on the BOV and ideally – a good number of Conservative business types whose mandate is to keep costs down and quality up.

      Surely out of all these institutions of higher ed – there ARE a few that offer a good degree for an affordable price, no?

  6. The last house we sold in DC was a down-sizer bought after kids left and we moved in from Potomac, to small urban place near a metro stop. Offered for sale, the bidding was fierce between three 30 something couples – all over achiever elite university graduate degree types in high flying DC jobs. I was astounded by their outstanding higher education debt. One guy’s education debt was over $410,000, his wife’s was $220,000.

    The rest (four married people) had debt all well over $100,000 each, two up to near $200,000 each.

    • That student debt did not seem to deter them from getting into a bidding war over your house. It sounds like you got more than your initial asking price. So, those elite university graduate degrees, with accompanying debt, must have gotten them jobs with salaries that would allow them to handle all that debt.

      • ditto what Dick said… if they take on gobs of debt for College then turn around and do it again for a house… geeze… we’re supposed to have “sympathy”?

    • You guys are missing my point. I am not asking for sympathy for them. I am talking about a sick system. These particular folks are among the highest and most successful wage earners in America, young stars in top DC law and consulting firms, former special assistant types to the highest government officials in US, all leveraged to the hilt, buying starter homes. Think about what that means to them and the other 99.99% of those stepping out to build families for first time, how fragile they (and we) all are, from the very top on down. And the home lending industry is the making same mistakes all over again. It’s frightening in any case. But this time, $1.5 trillion in student debt will blow them and us apart twice over.

  7. I’m just of the view that all of us have a fundamental responsibility to NOT go into debt up to our eyeballs and then claim the govt/taxpayers have to bail them out.

    If these folks are supposed to be the creme-de-la-creme then I seriously question their judgement and fitness to be in any corporate or professional role of significance.

    NO ONE is “entitled” to go into debt for an education. Nor are they required to do that. Those who say they have good judgement and personal responsibility do NOT go into overwhelming debt to get an “education”.

    Give me the folks who get that education without significant debt. That’s the person I want to be in a responsible corporate or professional role.

    This is foolishness.

    Responsible people do NOT do things like this. I’d no more want them in charge of some serious function than the man in the moon.

  8. I see Reed’s point. There are two main issues. Not everyone needs to go to college. Many do not have the temperament and there are many trades–plumbing, electrician, mechanics, etc.–in which someone can make a good living without a college education. But, there are many areas for which a college education is needed–teaching, government service, law, medicine, accounting, etc. In addition, I still hold the old-fashioned view that a broad liberal arts education is important for society in general by instilling and passing on the values of our civilization.

    The other issue is the cost of housing. As Reed’s comments illustrated, even folks with good, professional backgrounds are fighting for “starter” homes.

    With the ever escalating cost of higher education, the cultural divide in this country will increase. Whereas higher education used to serve the purpose of improving social mobility, we now are running the risk of narrowing that avenue. Those from the middle class who do go to college and are not able to obtain scholarship aid and must rely on debt will be saddled with a financial burden for many years. Those that go into medical professions, law, or the financial field will be OK. The teachers and the government employees, as well as those in general business, will struggle. For those, even a starter home may be out of reach for many years.

    In the end, we run the risk of limiting a higher education and home ownership to those from the elite class. That is the opposite of the American dream.

  9. It is the flow of easily borrowed money that has fueled universities to spend with impunity. This bubble will burst, it’s a question of when. Lenders are counting on an eventual government bailout. The US birthrate 18-ish years ago (2002) was the lowest ever recorded, and while UVA will have no trouble putting butts in seats, many schools have headwinds that will be crippling.

    The impact will be on all of us, with an economic reach well beyond the starter home market, though that is a good measure. Try new car purchases in 10 years, when Baby Boomers are done needing new cars.

    Blame? I think it’s largely the herd instinct of human behavior. As I hear it, when one is seated at the grand oval table in The Rotunda for the BOV meeting, the atmosphere is one of excitement to be among those at the table. When an articulate, well-argued case is made for need of this, necessity of that, no one wants to raise their hand in dissent, to spoil the fun. If you have the @#$%& to cast doubt, the majority will override you, anyway. Just ask RJ Kirk.

    Similarly, families have acted in herds to borrow against retirement, to take out all manner of loans to furnish access to higher ed, seeing that everyone else is doing that, afraid not to do so. For years, the debt hasn’t showed its consequences to caution them against this. Now we are beginning to feel the effects, seeing how unsustainable it is.

    Again, I wonder how Ryan can keep a straight face while his hand is out for more money.

    • “It is the flow of easily borrowed money that has fueled universities to spend with impunity. This bubble will burst, it’s a question of when. Lenders are counting on an eventual government bailout. The US birthrate 18-ish years ago (2002) was the lowest ever recorded, and while UVA will have no trouble putting butts in seats, many schools have headwinds that will be crippling.”

      Exactly, exactly right.

      Blame? The government. It’s the government who supposedly oversees the public universities and colleges. That government has stood stupidly by as costs have escalated vastly beyond inflation. It’s the government that guarantees student loans with no thought as to whether those borrowers are creditworthy or not. And it’s the government that will come to seize your assets and mine to cover for its gross incompetence and culpable negligence.

  10. Yes, it’s unsustainable to pass these costs to the next generation. But what to do about it? Reduce barriers to higher density, cheaper housing for our growing population in the midst of today’s single family sprawl? Subsidize community college to make it “free” like high school for those willing to forego the four-year residential experience? Merely complaining about higher costs is no solution but there’s too much entrenched pushback against these solutions to do more than complain.

  11. re: “liberal Arts”. On that both Dick and Steve agree… broad based , sort of flesh on the bones of the core items… perhaps

    But I just want to point out again – that even though I agree that College is necessary for a lot of occupations – that there are cost-effective ways to do it without going for the full-bore enchilada .. i.e. the “College experience” of which a large portion is room and board.

    For example, many lower-income Asian folks (and others) will endure all kinds of deprivation on food and housing to achieve their goals… and Americans tend to want the Cadillac package. There was a time when many of us went to “night school”.

    If someone dearly wants the Cadillac package – that’s their choice but if they don’t have the money and go into debt up to their eyeballs AND then located in a high cost area – I STILL QUESTION their judgement.

    In fact, I think folks that do College plus work dually – are more well-equipped with knowledge plus real-world experience. You’ll note that many of our most successful high-tech CEOs are College LITE!

    Finally, how can we relentlessly DING low-income folks for making poor financial decisions and then say something “must be done” for folks with high debt for college.

    In my mind, they BOTH have the SAME problem.

    There is no shortage of Higher Ed options in this country – but responsible folks – make responsible financial decisions – and those
    with higher Ed who made terrible financial decisions to get their education are just not responsible in my view.

    The truth is – not all of us are Rich or even upper middle class – and that is a reality that we cannot use as an excuse to make irresponsible financial decisions. Tied up with this mess is people going into deep debt and NOT getting an actual marketable College degree…

    Don’t blame the govt or institutions – a lot of this is on individual people who fail to use good judgement and make sound decisions.

    And yes, this is coming from the oft-labeled “liberal” in this group.

    • “Don’t blame the govt or institutions – a lot of this is on individual people who fail to use good judgement and make sound decisions.”

      BS.

      Individual people did not cause the cost of a college education to rise vastly faster than inflation. That was a group of state employees called “college and university administrators” reporting to unaccountable boards of visitors appointed by … the government.

      Most people who went to college but never should have gone only got loans due to government guarantees. A kid with a 2.8 GPA in high school looking to borrow $200,000 to get an anthropology degree is not credit worthy.

  12. Are you going to blame ANY institution or corporation that increases costs as an excuse for the individuals to act irresponsibly with regard to their own finances?

    I call BS on that idea.

    I totally agree with all the nuances like the kid with a 2.8 GPA getting a worthless degree and we blame that on “easy money”.

    No, that’s on the kid and his parents just like ANY stupid financial decision is made – and the excuse is it was too easy to get the loan.

    I could, no doubt, go out and get an $80,000 car loan because I do have the credit worthiness to do it – but is that financially responsible? I’m going to blame the loan companies for my own bad decisions?

    Geezy Peezy.

    Come on Man. You of all folks here should be touting personal responsibility for success in life… no?

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