By ALISON THOET
Residence hall room rates and meal plan costs will increase next year by about $150 and $100 respectively at the University of Mary Washington. The Board of Visitors approved the increases at their most recent meeting this past weekend.
Dining and residence hall expenditures are solely supported by student fees, not by the state, according to Rick Pearce, vice president of administration and finance. The increase for next year results in a two percent change for room rates and four percent change for meal plans.
Eagle Landing residents will experience a $200, or three percent increase, while the UMW apartments will rise by eight percent, which is at least a $500 difference, according to the rates approved by the UMW BOV last Friday.
The increase in room charges is due mostly to the constant cost of maintenance and utilities. However, the eight percent hike for the UMW apartments results from the establishment of a repair and replacement fund that covers both the apartments and Eagle Village, according to Pearce.
Meal plans increased due to the cost of food, which went up between 3.5 and four percent since last year. Increased food rates are also due to maintenance and Sodexo employee costs and wages.
Pearce led a group of people, involving Doug Searcy, vice president of student affairs, budget administrators and residence life officials to set the appropriate numbers. Pearce tracks budget changes and expenses yearly to figure out how to offset certain expenditures.
The rates for next school year were finalized in mid-October and voted on by the BOV.
Beatrice Ohene-Okae, a sophomore environmental science major, is an organizer for UMW Students United, a coalition of the Virginia State Power Network, geared toward promoting diversity, transparency and accessibility, according to Ohene-Okae.
UMW Students United sat in on the BOV meetings on Nov. 13 and 14 to show that UMW students wish to be present at important university decisions.
“It’s disturbing because even with student presence and awareness, we weren’t able to stop something like this,” said Ohene-Okae. “I wouldn’t call this a loss, but something we can use to push our campaign forward.”
With three younger siblings awaiting college, Ohene-Okae pays for her education by taking out loans and applying to scholarships so her siblings will not have work so hard to pay for their educations.
Continuous rising in tuition costs is an issue that future generations of students must deal with as well.
“[The Virginia State Power Network campaign] to topple student debts is going to be fundamental to future generations,” said Ohene-Okae.
According to Pearce, the total increase of six percent spanning two years for meals and rooms is quite low. However, the costs of rooms and meal plans will continue to rise annually, as “the costs of doing business go up every single year,” said Pearce.
This upward trend for tuition can only go higher with the five percent cut in general fund appropriations that will hit public universities and colleges in Virginia, including UMW, in 2015.
“It’s not just the buildings and the residents halls that they’re making you pay more for, it’s your meal plan and things like that,” said Chelsea Mills, a senior biology major in the five years master program for education. “They’ve increased prices a little bit everywhere that just make it next to impossible to pay for school. They need to figure out a way to, maybe, cut things where we don’t need them.”
According to a previous article published in The Blue & Gray Press, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Chief of Staff, Paul Reagan, distributed an email to rectors and presidents of universities and colleges in Virginia suggesting that each school prepare savings strategies in light of the state budget cuts.
The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission recently offered recommendations for making higher education more affordable, including curbing the cost of construction on campus, according to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
JLARC determined that Virginia’s public four-year institutions have an average net cost of $18,530, ranking them fifth highest in the nation, according to the Times-Dispatch. In addition, Virginia schools are usually amongst the top 10 or 15 percent in the nation, according to the Associated Press.
With its decentralized higher education system, Virginia schools’ virtual independence allows them to expand non-academic services, despite the lack of state funding in favor of student debt increases.
Academic facilities at UMW such as the Information and Technology Convergence Center and the Student Center are typically paid using state loans and then repaid through student fees. According to the AP, institutional debt services resulted in an average of $689 for students in 2013.
A report by the McAuliffe administration says tuition could be made more affordable if schools limit non-academic and capital spending in favor of academic funding, according to AP.
While fees are increasing for this year, the university is trying to minimize the burden on students as much as possible.
“We’re trying to keep it fairly low. They could have gone up higher, but we tried to cut some costs,” Pearce said.