Britney Ellis, a student at the University of Mary Washington, planned to finish college debt-free, but tuition increases are making her original plan difficult.
“I’d rather take out all of my savings and pay off school now then take out a loan and have to pay it off for the next five to ten years,” she said. “I know that’s not possible for everybody.”
UMW has seen a 5 percent increase in tuition since 2008, leaving many students wondering what the extra $169 a semester is going towards and whether the increase will continue as the economy remains shaky.
Mary Washington has not been alone in these statistics. Many other publicly funded Virginia universities including the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, Longwood University and James Madison University have also seen an increase in tuition over the past five years.
The highest increase of 17.9 percent, or $1320, occurred at the University of Virginia between 2007 and 2008.
According to the UMW Web site, from 2006 to 2007 there was a tuition increase of $205, from 2007 to 2008 there was a tuition increase of $240 and from 2008 to 2009 there was an increase of $169. This increase only includes in-state undergraduate tuition per semester and education and general fees.
According to Paul Messplay, executive director of budget analysis at UMW, the reason for the increases is mainly due to the economy.
“State revenues are down and they don’t have as big a budget anymore,” Messplay said. “Higher education is competing with all of the other needs across the state too, corrections in highways and all those things you see in the paper. So, unfortunately in the past few years the tuition increases have primarily gone to offset state funding reductions.”
The General Assembly of Virginia determines state funds and where they are allocated. According to the Overview of Proposed Amendments to the 2008 to 2010 budget plan, “Programs such as K-12 public education and Medicaid were largely exempted from reductions in the first year of the budget.”
These programs, coupled with a decrease in state funding, have led to the need for a tuition increase.
“Operation costs went up and have been going up annually,” Messplay added as another reason for the tuition increase.
On Nov. 20, 2009, the Board of Visitors, which controls tuition rates, approved a mid-year increase of $100 for the spring semester’s tuition bill, which came out in early December.
The increase was in an effort to “preserve academic programs of the institution,” Richard Hurley, executive vice president, said.
The mid-year increase is the first since 2002, when tuition was increased by $252.
The increase will generate roughly $4 million in revenue, and will recover much of the money lost from the state this fiscal year. The university is currently receiving federal stimulus money to mitigate tuition increases; however, these funds will be cut by 2011, Hurley said.
In his proposal to the BOV, Hurley outlined plans to restore the reduced equipment budget and help replace adjunct professors with more full-time faculty. In addition, $25,000 will go toward a need-based financial aid fund, which is utilized by roughly 60 percent of students.
The funds from the $252 tuition increase in 2002 were strictly used to balance the budget, Hurley said.
The College of William and Mary announced a mid-year tuition increase of $300 at the same time UMW announced its increase, according to the William and Mary Web site. At the time of the BOV’s decision, Hurley said other Virginia institutions relative in size in UMW were also considering increases.
Rick Pearce, the associate vice president for business and finance, explained the university’s decision.
“University of Mary Washington did not want to raise tuition and is very frustrated that the tuition raises are due to state funding reduction and increased energy rates,” Pearce said.
Messplay and Pearce also stated the increased tuition funds are going primarily to two aspects of the university, the operation and maintenance of the plant and scholarships and fellowships. The proposed 2009 to 2010 University Budget Plan and Tuition and Fees by the BOV confirms how the increased tuition funds will be used.
John Wiltenmuth, the associate vice president of facilities services, said expenses related to the plant are “generally the costs of salaries, materials, and services, like pest control and elevator repairs, for the maintenance of buildings and grounds.”
“No additional funds have actually been budgeted to our accounts,” Wiltenmuth said. “Our budget was reduced by over $300,000 this year and included the loss of three more positions in addition to the 10 positions left unfilled in the previous two years.”
Because of these decreases in personnel and funds, UMW’s “capacity to provide services to students, faculty, and staff has, regrettably, been reduced in like measure,” Wiltenmuth said.
“The increase shown in the 2009-10 Budget Plan for Operation and Maintenance was largely driven by increases in the cost of utilities,” Messplay said. “Other budget adjustments were provided for the operating costs related to the new addition to Lee Hall and for various lease cost increases.”
Scholarships and Fellowships also received more funding due to this year’s tuition increase, Messplay and Pearce said.
“The only significant increase in financial aid that I am aware of is in the Federal Pell Grant, which is basically a federal entitlement program,” Debra Harber, director of financial aid, said. “This increase is due to an increase in the maximum dollar amount that an eligible student may receive from $4731 to $5350.”
Many students are either unaware of these yearly tuition increases or feel directly affected by them.
“It is frustrating because I bought a car over the summer and I am working three jobs now trying to pay that off along with tuition that is not covered by financial aid,” junior Virginia Osella said. “So the tuition rise just adds to it all.”
Prarthana Gurung, a sophomore, said she was aware of the tuition increase “because I am paying for half, so my parents let me know.”
“I didn’t receive enough financial aid,” Gurung said. “I switched the company from where I was receiving my loans and I had to apply for more scholarships through the school.”
Though Gurung said she felt the tuition increase was fair, she said she wished she could see where the money was going. If tuition continues to rise, Gurung said her additional debt may alter her plans after graduation.
Though many students and parents feel the consequences of the tuition increase, Messplay said that the faculty and staff are equally distressed.
There is a growing difficulty of trying “to offer a lot of new programming and expansion of programming when all the dollars are going back to offset the state funding reduction,” Messplay said.
–Kathryn Ashworth, Ashleigh Buyers, Peter Ceo and Marie Sicola contributed to this report.