The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) just published its 2018-19 Tuition & Fee Report, a comprehensive summary of trends and a comparative analysis across our public institutions.
The statistic usually drawing the most attention from this report is the annual percentage increase in tuition and mandatory fees, which this year was slightly above 5 percent. For over a decade now, tuition and fees have systematically outpaced inflation, causing understandable public concern and placing our public universities in the priciest quartile in the country (a fact that does not escape newspaper editorial boards like at the Daily Press in Newport News).
There are two important aspects of the tuition and fees discussion that tend to be ignored but shouldn’t be: Virginia is in the bottom quartile in public investment in higher education, and there are significant differences in the price tags of our public universities.
The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (the national association of entities like SCHEV) lists Virginia as lagging other states in the percentage of tax revenues it invests in higher education, in dollars invested per capita and per unit of GDP, and, more importantly, in plain dollars appropriated per student. Virginia taxpayers provide universities with $2,109 per student less than taxpayers in other states send to their public colleges. It is no coincidence that Virginia ranks ninth-highest in tuition and fees and ninth-lowest in public investment per student.
And not all schools in Virginia charge the same. While I wish we could charge half as much as we currently do at Mason, I’m comforted by the fact that we have managed to once again keep our annual tuition and mandatory fees $908 below the average for 4-year institutions even though we operate in the Commonwealth’s most expensive region.
The contrast is even more striking when we consider the other three Research 1 universities in the state (the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth), which charge $2,412 (or 16.2 percent) more than Mason charges while receiving $2,084 more per student from the state than Mason does.
I’m proud of our financial efficiency and our commitment to affordability, but I remain deeply troubled by the gap in public investment directed to Mason, the university that has accounted for 48 percent of the state’s enrollment growth in the past decade.
This disparity in support is an issue that I will continue to bring up with the state administration and the General Assembly this year. I encourage Mason students, parents, and alumni to pose the same question to their state representatives.