Facing deficits, College hosts public hearing on potential tuition raises

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JAMIE HOLT / THE FLAT HAT

Thursday, Jan. 21, the College of William and Mary held a public hearing on potential tuition increases from 0 to 3% for students who entered during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. The hearing was led by Chief Operating Officer Amy Sebring, who also provided an overview of the College’s fiscal state during the 2020 fiscal year.

Board of Visitors member James Hixon J.D. ‘79 M.L.T. ‘80 opened the hearing by acknowledging the significance of potential tuition increases.

“I would just like to say that the committee and the board and the administration takes tuition increases very seriously and we welcome any comments you might have,” Hixon said.

Sebring’s presentation focused on the specifics of how the College allocates each tuition dollar. She stressed tuition revenue’s large role in supporting the College’s budget, which has been put under additional strain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tuition is William and Mary’s single largest source of revenue,” Sebring said. “If you look at FY20, tuition and educational and general program fees, those fees that support the academic programs, approach almost $220 million, or about 47% of William and Mary’s budget.”

“Tuition is William and Mary’s single largest source of revenue,” Sebring said. “If you look at FY20, tuition and educational and general program fees, those fees that support the academic programs, approach almost $220 million, or about 47% of William and Mary’s budget.”

Sebring continued by emphasizing how much tuition costs directly fund the academic programs of the College.

“Academics accounts for over half of the university’s overall expenditures,” Sebring said. “If you look at FY20, $241 million, over 50% of our operating budget, went to support academics … Importantly, if you add financial aid to that, at 13%, over two-thirds of the university’s budget goes to those two programs.”

Sebring explained that a plurality of tuition dollars, approximately 47%, supports direct instruction, including faculty compensation. An additional 17%  supports need-based financial aid, 13% supports libraries, academic technology and deans, 11% supports institutional support such as human resources, finances and information technology, 8% supports operation and maintenance of facilities, including WMPD, and 4% supports administrative services including the registrar’s office, career services, the financial aid office and the Office of Undergraduate Admission.  Sebring also noted that tuition has remained relatively consistent in recent fiscal years.

“Over the last four years, there has been relatively little growth in undergraduate tuition at William and Mary,” Sebring said. “In FY19, FY20 and FY21 tuition has been held flat for the incoming class, so that’s remained constant over those three years.”

According to Sebring, the College is facing a shortfall of more than $40 million in the next fiscal year because of several factors. First, the College is projecting a drop in anticipated revenue because of a relatively large current enrollment of in-state students as opposed to out-of-state, who face steeper tuition costs. Additionally, the College expects a $24 million projected loss in auxiliary expenses, coupled with $10 million in increased expenses related to COVID-19.

Sebring then detailed the measures being taken to balance the College’s budget, including $17.4 million in expense reductions across the institution, $10.7 million in temporary debt service savings due to refinancing, $5 million in one-time state appropriations to fund COVID-19 expenses, $3.5 in one-time state funding to mitigate the impact of holding undergraduate tuition growth at 0%, and $4.2 in carryforward balances from prior year savings.

Virginia law mandates that the power to set tuition and fees be given solely to the College’s Board of Visitors. The College is required by state law to have a balanced budget. The Board of Visitors will make a final decision on tuition and fees at its Feb. 26 meeting.