UVa vs. Student Body


How out of control is public university spending in Virginia? The University of Virginia may not be entirely representative of a higher education system that runs the gamut from the College of William & Mary to George Mason University, from Tidewater Community College to Longwood University. But it does represent the unrestrained id of higher education untrammeled, by virtue of its excellent reputation, by the constraints of market demand.

The chart above, contributed by a source who prefers to remain anonymous, shows how the growth in tuition and fees charged by UVa have consistently outstripped Virginians’ median household incomes between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013.

The usual response is, “The General Assembly made me do it.” Grappling with declining state support, UVa supposedly had nowhere to turn but tuition and fees to make up the balance.

I decided to check the numbers from General Assembly budget documents. Here’s what I found, comparing fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2013, the same period covered in the chart above.
Lo and behold, what do we find? State support stayed level over the 10-year period (increasing 1.6%) while Nongeneral spending (comprising tuition, fees, room, board, R&D and ancillary spending) leaped 73%. With state support holding steady and other spending soaring, it is ludicrous to blame the increase in tuition & fees on cuts in state spending.

The truth is, UVa spending has ballooned. The university has paid for that spending by jacking up tuition & fees because it can. Its brand name and quality education give it the pricing power to do so.

In the 2014 fiscal year, the General Assembly bumped up state support for UVa by $7 million. But then budget shortfalls required cutbacks of $6.5 million this fiscal year and $9 million the next, which at that point actually will produce decline in state support compared to 2003. And you can bet your bottom dollar that UVa will justify continued hikes in tuition & fees by shifting all blame to the penurious policies of the commonwealth.


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7 responses to “UVa vs. Student Body”

  1. Beginning in the 1990s Virginia cut support to higher education as did most states and we became fixed on easy and plentiful student loan money. This has resulted nationally in more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.
    As part of doing this the Commonwealth has stepped back from responsibility for college and university expenditures. Not only have students been paying more for general university costs they have begun to spend more and more on non-academic functions such as athletics, recreation facilities and housing. Virginia once exercised strict control over athletic costs and administrative costs such as presidents salaries and benefits and the number and compensation for vice presidents and other administrators.
    During the first decade of this century president’s salaries jumped about 20% per year and football and basketball coach’s salaries and benefits jumped about 30% per year and right on through the recession across the nation including in Virginia.
    Most of this increased spending has been charged to student credit cards, so to speak, and someone is going to have to pay the piper. In 2012 Virginia had three of the ten highest paid public university presidents in the nation according to the Chronicle of higher education.
    So the General Assembly and an array of governors of both parties cut state support for higher education (not worth the investment I guess?) and dropped state oversight of spending.
    And now someone will really have to pay the piper. Just like in Washington.
    Other states have not always followed this path. For example, in Tennessee, a state without income tax, the Republican governor just persuaded their state legislative body to make community college free along with providing a $4,500 per year statefunded scholarships for Tennesseans who attend in-state public or private universities. And other states are seeing dramatic change in higher education policies and funding. Texas and Florida instituted a $10,000 total cost Bachelor’s degree where student go to community college first and then on to a four year college. California just passed a law to allow 15 community colleges to offer four year degrees primarily occupationally oriented degrees. And numerous institutions such as Purdue and Johns Hopkins are becoming advocates of the three year bachelor’s degrees which are common in most English speaking countries and others.
    So change is coming but where and when will Virginia step up to the plate is the question?

  2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    If infation increased by more than 1.3 percent between 2003 and 2013 then the state’s investment did not stay level.

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Virginia is too busy using tax dollars to subsidize real estate development.

    A three-year BA/BS should strongly be considered.

  4. The student loan deal is the Son of Sub Prime loans and I predict that Jim Bacon will soon claim that the “easy” student loans were a government scheme to help the “poor” afford a college education.

    Jim Bacon talks about financial literacy.. and how it’s not so hot in the lower economic groups..

    well, let me tell you – that it ain’t so hot for the Middle Class either.

    What kind of a dumbass would literally mortgage their future over a college education?

    it’s not like there are not much more affordable colleges nor the fact that folks could get jobs while they go to college.. cut back on the credits and make enough money to pay your way through school – way the heck better than ending up 30K in debt the day after graduation and you still don’t have a job..

    So if you want to talk about sub-prime loans and financial literacy – talk to UVA – they know the truth – and the truth is – there are long lines of people willing to go into hock up to their eyeballs to spend 4 years at UVA.

    I half way expected GOP fiscal conservatives to oppose Obama and read the riot act to folks about college loans.. but nope.. they totally okay with it.

    so when we whine about deficits and debts and how it dooms our children to a future of doom and gloom – think about what we do right now with regard to college loans. Do you REALLY think the kid and his parents who decided to go 30-40K in debt cares about the deficit and debt?

    There’s a cartoon character name POGO – and POGO knows the truth about who the enemy is.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      My daughter, who recently graduated from North Carolina State, had this grandiose idea that she’d stay another year and get a double major. She largely exhausted the fund here mother and I established. She decided she’d borrow money. She liked college. But when she realized she have to start paying the loan back and on what probably wouldn’t be a big salary, she decided a single major was a better strategy. At that point, I figured she will make it in life. People need to think and take some responsibility.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Jim, I commend your research. Let us summarize. Over the course of a decade, in period when enrollment probably grew, the state has effectively level funded one of it flagship universities, your Alma Mater, a national treasure. With inflation and enrollment growth the general fund support per FTE actually shrank. Even if the cost of providing the education merely grew with inflation, tuitions would have to grow faster than inflation to keep up. But as noted, the schools have been on a bit of a spending spree, too, largely to provide the kind of amenities they think they need to compete for the best students, to keep their rankings up or their faculty stable. Some have also, with little fanfare, been adding to the tuition cost to provide their own internal financial aid programs, a transfer payment so to speak. State support for direct need-based aid has also lagged.

    A data item missing form the discussion. The General Assembly has made a conscious decision to turn the largest universities loose from several forms of state oversight. Gone are the days when a Governor Allen would impose a tuition freeze.

    Over at my Alma Mater, with the political cover of an attractive promise of a level price for four years, tuitions have really skyrocketed. The school Mr. Jefferson actually attended – also a national treasure – is exploring one of the viable options available — near private status and near private pricing. When their dream is achieved (not all share this dream) they will eschew state support entirely, charge what the market will bear, enroll a much higher percentage of out of state students, and transfer substantial financial aid to those who need it. Hey, its a funding model.

    Another possible model is provided by the existing Tuition Assistance Grants, almost $70 million in general fund grants to thousands of Virginia students in private non-profits (like U of R). TAG is highly popular with the students, the schools, and has proven something of a third rail at the General Assembly. Should that be the model, giving all Virginia students a TAG grant rather than giving the schools money?

    On an earlier posting, somebody advocated merging and closing institutions with a vengeance, dropping down to fewer than 10 state four-year schools. Okay. Most of the smaller schools (and some darn large ones) started as satellites of UVA or W&M so I guess they could go back to that status, but I’m not sure what is saves.

    Where we are gives me headaches. We need to have a debate about this. I want the next generation to at least have a chance at the wonderful education my parents and my generation had access to at reasonable cost. The big JLARC report on higher education is out next week. Maybe it will point the way?

  6. Steve, you and Life on the Fall Line both made the point that while state contributions to UVa have remained stable, inflation-adjusted support per pupil has declined. I think that’s a fair observation, and any fair-minded person would have to concede that parsimonious state funding has played a role in tuition increases. What I would love to see is a study that shows what percentage of the increase in tuition and fees can be attributed to declining (in inflation-adjusted terms) state support and what percentage can be attributed to factors under the university’s control.

    The reason I am dismiss as apologetics anything that issues from the institutions of higher learning is that they *never* accept any responsibility themselves. Rising tuition is *always* someone else’s fault — the state’s, the general rate of inflation, higher health care costs, whatever. They would gain credibility in my view if they would admit, yeah, we’ve let administrative costs run a little out of control. Yeah, installing food services and dormitories that rival the Hilton has run up costs, too. But we never heard that from them.

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