Virginia’s public universities might have to reconsider tuition increases as a means of meeting budget shortfalls.
In a Dec. 17 address to the Virginia General Assembly budget-writing committees, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced his intention to cut state funding to Virginia Commonwealth University by $17 million in response to tuition raises McDonnell called “unacceptable.”
“The VCU board approved a 24-percent rate increase for the kids at VCU last year,” McDonnell said. “That’s unacceptable, and I’ve made a challenge in the budget and I’ve only appropriated half of that general fund revenue back to the university in anticipation of different board action this spring when they consider future tuition increases.”
Facing a $42-million budget shortfall, the VCU Board of Visitors approved a tuition hike amounting to $1,700 for in-state students, which raises tuition to $8,717. Prior to the increase, VCU’s tuition had been among the lowest in the state. However, despite the raise, VCU’s tuition remains lower than the in-state tuition rate at the College of William and Mary, $12,188, and at the University of Virginia, $10,628.
McDonnell’s decision to cut VCU’s funding amounts to nearly half of the additional revenue generated by the tuition increases.
While Virginia state government has used state funding as a bargaining chip with state universities in the past, College economics professor Robert Archibald said that McDonnell’s 50 percent cut was unprecedented.
“The history of it shows that the state government has, on occasion, been very resistant to large tuition increases,” Archibald said. “It’s nothing new for the state government to not look kindly upon large tuition increases, but this is the first time in my knowledge that the state has responded in this fashion.”
According to Archibald, when faced with similar situations in the past, the state utilized less severe measures including taking away tuition responsibilities from public universities and instituting tuition freezes.
“Other times, the state has put language in the bill that funds colleges that strongly suggests against tuition increases,” he said.
For other Virginia universities considering tuition increases, Archibald said that McDonnell’s decision could cause administrators to think twice.
“The message that the governor wanted to send is that this is something that he didn’t want to see,” Archibald said. “If the university were thinking about this, the governor sent a strong message.”
While the budget at the 32,000-student university will be hit by the funding cut, Archibald said that the position of VCU parents and students must be considered.
“Put yourself in the position of a VCU parent. If all goes as suggested, your tuition goes up 24 percent, but you only see half the benefit,” Archibald said. “If I’m a VCU parent, then I’m kind of annoyed, [and] it puts VCU in a tough position with parents and students.”