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Tuition Dilemmas, chapter 2010

26 Apr Posted by in Business | Comments Off on Tuition Dilemmas, chapter 2010

While several schools have yet to report, the Virginia public university tuition policies are now pretty clear. As always, the results leave one wondering about Mason’s decisions – without, however, feeling they were wrong. This is simply an area where it’s hard to feel comfortable these days.

Mason is planning a roughly 8% hike (tuition and fees) for in-state students, less for out-of-state (and less also when room and board are taken into account). The proposed increases are all pending approval by the Board of Visitors. These are greater hikes than we ventured last year, because of additional cuts, the need to prepare for the ending of the federal ARRA funds, and a deep belief that we serve the vast majority of our students best if we maintain a funding base that, while hardly adequate, prevents further cuts in academic services and infrastructure, and can sustain modest new educational initiatives.

Most of our sister institutions seem to agree that we need to be particularly careful of out-of-state rates, though there are a couple of mavericks.

Old Dominion University is the only school thus far reporting with lower rates than ours. I don’t know the basis for their policy, which at one juncture may have helped them in Richmond. But that’s what they’re doing even now, when the state well has run dry for the moment.

James Madison is just a tad above us. Noticeably higher, pressing 10% in state, are UVa and Va Tech. Les riches deviennent plus riches. And remember that at least one other school already raised rates midterm. Some of my colleagues, highly responsible, will believe that the disparity signals a mistake on our part, when we should be moving up toward their levels both for prestige marketing purposes – what’s dearer may be seen as more valuable – and because we could so use extra funding for real improvements in research and education. It’s an interesting debating point.

On the other hand, I had to participate last week in presenting the rates we are advocating to a large student group. They were understanding but hardly overjoyed, wondering in one case if we could cut more; in another, what would happen next year; in yet a third how the trade off between good educational programs and the out-of-state margin will look this time around. It’s a salutary exercise to remind us all that these decisions have human consequences and that we must be ready to defend them publicly to those most affected.

We don’t quite know whether any of the decisions thus far taken will have federal repercussions (we were supposed to be keeping a bit of a lid on the information, in return for ARRA funds). It’s important to remember also that the state really requires us to increase tuition to some extent, now that it no longer helps with new building maintenance and insists that we cover half of the hoped-for bonus to employees.

Finally, the equation must also include scholarship monies. Remember that the state added nothing more this year. We need all the dexterity and private help we can muster to help gain maximum flexibility in tuition decisions in future, given the economics of many of our students and our (still unusual compared to some of our sister schools) unusual responsibility for accessibility. The whole combination never produces an easy call, and certainly seems unusually complicated right now.