VCU Board Rubber Stamps 6.4% Tuition Hike

Virginia Commonwealth University admissions acceptance rate through the 2016-17 school year. Source: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors will jack up its tuition and fees by $866 next year, an increase of 6.4%. The vote came Friday after a presentation VCU administration sparked no discussion, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Only one board member, former political science professor Robert D. Holsworth, cast a vote against the increase.

“This budget helps ensure that we will provide an exceptional educational experience while staying true to our mission of advancing student success and access,” President Michael Rao said in a statement.

The administration billed the increase as needed to provide a 3% merit-based raise for faculty and to raise adjunct salaries from $800 per credit hour to $1,000. VCU’s tuition increase was more than double that of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, and barely exceeded by that of the College of William & Mary for incoming freshmen and transfers.

Bacon’s bottom line: So, what’s the excuse this time? VCU can’t blame the General Assembly. The legislature appears set to budget $15 million in General Fund support for tuition at VCU million in fiscal 2019, a 7.2% increase from the current fiscal year.

More prestigious institutions like UVa, Tech and W&M have the market power to increase tuition and suffer no loss in enrollment. They enjoy such strong demand that even if some students are priced out on the margins, there are plenty of other students willing to pay the higher price. The question I raised last year is how much pricing power VCU has, especially given its identity as an institution that caters to first-in-family college students who tend to be less affluent and find it more difficult to pay the tab. Can VCU continue to hike the cost of attendance without suffering a loss in enrollment?

After a 3.8% tuition hike last year, fall 2017 enrollment at VCU did decline slightly — from 24,199 in 2016 to 24,102 – about 97 students. That’s a negative direction, but the percentage is so small that it can be construed as within the normal range of variability. Still, that modest decline must be regarded in the light of a second statistic — the acceptance rate. While most colleges are getting more selective in whom they admit (because students tend to be applying to more colleges), VCU has been getting less selective. The blue and orange lines in the graph above show how the university has been accepting a higher percentage of students who have been applying in recent years.

Does that mean VCU is scraping the bottom of the barrel? Hard to say. Two years ago, VCU announced that it would no longer require with a high school GPA of 3.3 or higher to submit SAT scores. High school GPAs, the administration argued, were better predictors than SAT scores of college success. Forgive my skepticism. Against the backdrop of high school grade inflation and the wide variation in academic standards from institution to institution, some might find GPAs less than worthless.

No one or two data points can be viewed in isolation. One year’s data cannot be regarded as conclusive evidence of anything. But the data should raise questions.

And questions, according to the Times-Dispatch, are exactly what were absent at the VCU board meeting. The board rubber-stamped the administration’s proposal for the most important decision it makes all year. Rather than ask for the numbers, explore the implications of those numbers, and ask the administration to defend those numbers, the board did nothing. Which raises the question, why bother even having a Board of Visitors?

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2 responses to “VCU Board Rubber Stamps 6.4% Tuition Hike

  1. I guess our all seeing, all knowing, all powerful General Assembly just doesn’t give a rat’s ass.

    I still maintain that every public college and university in Virginia needs to have one seat on its board of visitors set aside for a sitting member of the General Assembly. There’s no way that one seat would politicize the board but there is definitely a way that General Assembly could stop acting like the three moneys with their hands over their eyes, ears and mouths when it comes to higher education in Virginia.

  2. I gotta figure out how to get photos in these comments….have a great shot with the two-year-old pushing a shopping cart which will need to be filled with gold in sixteen years should he wish to attend a four year school as an in-state student. You cannot single out VCU, tempting as it is – this is a system wide failing. The very rich just pay, the very poor get a break and the folks in the middle forego their retirements.

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