Facing a wave of student opposition to proposed tuition increases, the Hurley administration plans to scale back the tuition increase it will seek for the next school year.
In October, Hurley said that UMW could face tuition increases of up to 25 percent, providing several proposed increase options based on what he said the university would need to continue advancing as an institution.
But students responded by questioning the proposed changes in an October Student Senate meeting and creating a student forum to provide an outlet for students to address the administration regarding their concerns.
And the administration seems to be responding.
Paul Messplay, executive director for the Office of Budget and Financial Analysis, confirmed that the university is strongly considering budget options allowing for a lesser tuition increase.
“In November, the administration brought additional tuition increase scenarios to the Board of Visitors that were substantially lower than the original options,” he said.
“These lower alternatives were in direct response to feedback received by the university administration, primarily from students in various public forums,” he added.
The actions taken by Gov. Bob McDonnell to slash state funding for Virginia Commonwealth University after the university approved a 24 percent tuition increase last year were meant to serve as a warning, according to nbc12.com. The governor publicly criticized VCU’s decision while presenting his budget plan to lawmakers in December.
Messplay said that while UMW began to consider lower increase options prior to the governor’s budget recommendations that affected VCU, these actions have influenced the Hurley administration’s decisions.
“The University is currently focusing on a lower increase for next year, but the major impetus for this change in direction has been the input we received from students rather than actions affecting VCU,” he said. “Of course, the VCU actions have certainly helped to solidify our current thinking.”
An exact number for tuition increases was not available at the time of publication.
“The actual amount of the recommended increase is still under review,” Messplay said. “We will continue to analyze our options over the next couple of months, incorporating actions taken by the 2011 General Assembly and identifying costs and new initiatives affecting next year’s budget.”
The governor released his budget on December 17, 2010, Messplay said. It is now before the General Assembly, where it will likely undergo more changes before the budget is finally passed.
Ryley Trahan, the sophomore who started the forums on student debt in October, thinks the governor’s reaction to VCU is a large factor in the university’s decision to lower possible tuition increases.
“I’d love it if I thought that it was in response to student reaction, but I guess I’m a little skeptical there,” he said.
Trahan’s concern with tuition increases as a concept lies with what he called a violation of the contract between an institution and its students.
“Student debt is a defining part of our generation,” he said. “There are no signs of it slowing down, and what’s scary is that there’s no one in control really caring.”
Trahan said Hurley is taking steps toward his goals for the university, and Trahan supports that. What he doesn’t support is the way he’s seen the university try to pay for it.
“If Virginia doesn’t have any money, that doesn’t mean the families of Virginia do,” he said. “That business model wouldn’t be approved in any industry other than higher education. The reason that McDonnell cut off VCU was because they were not being financially accountable. They didn’t have things in place that would keep their cost down.”
Trahan believes if the university implemented cost controls, they would get more money from the state and would be able to use money more effectively.
“I find it hard to believe that we are actually using our money efficiently,” he said. “I think that’s Governor McDonnell’s problem as well.”
Ben Yazman, a junior and vice-president of the Legislative Action Committee (LAC), said if tuition rises it would be to compensate for 5 years of budget cuts in state funding for education.
“I’m really just worried that it would hurt the students and parents who have to pay tuition,” he said.
The LAC, is a student organization at UMW for students to lobby their cause to the Virginia State Assembly.
Based on what the LAC has experienced when meeting with state government officials, the university most likely isn’t in line to incur major budget cuts like VCU faced, Yazman said.
“The school has pretty good standing with the General Assembly,” he said. “For the most part, everybody we meet with is familiar with and in support of Mary Washington.”
Photo courtesy of Peter Cihelka/Free Lance-Star