As 7,695 students prepare to receive their Mason degrees this week, it’s timely to ask: did we deliver on our promise to them? Was their investment in time and money worthwhile?
Our promise to students is captured in our definition of the Mason Graduate as an engaged citizen and well-rounded scholar who is prepared to act. It is not yet clear how we will measure the former, but learning outcome assessments indicate that we are doing a good job in scholarship. Employment data show that we are doing quite well in producing graduates who are ready to work and create value.
According to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, recent Mason graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn on average $41,153 a year, which places them at the top among Virginia universities. Many of our 2014 graduates already have secured jobs, and we expect that more than 80 percent of our graduating class will be employed within six months. Clearly our location in northern Virginia, right outside the Nation’s capital, contributes to these numbers. Our focus on experiential and integrative learning, our facilitation of internships, and our attention to the needs of employers are also part of the success.
Our vision states that “we will be a valuable investment for our students” and our strategic plan sets “return on investment” as one of our top goals. Whatever we do with regard to tuition policy, and whatever the evolution of federal and state funding is, we are committed to delivering best-in-class value to our students.
This past week we announced an increase of 4.8 percent in tuition and fees for next year. The increase is necessary to help cover cost increases in health and pension benefits for employees, as well as other costs and contracts, a yet-to-be-approved modest salary increase, and a number of enhancements in program quality and services. The increase is higher than last year’s (3.0 percent) and the year prior (3.8 percent), and lower than in 2011-12 (6.7 percent). Since 2011-12, Mason will have accumulated a 12 percent increase in tuition and fees, among the lowest in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In spite of these increases, Mason’s tuition and fees remain below the average for all public universities in Virginia, and significantly lower than the average doctoral institutions.
The combination of high employment outcomes and comparatively low tuition is the reason why our graduates have one of the lowest default rates on student loans in the nation and why Mason is consistently ranked as one of the best values in higher education by the Princeton Review, Kiplinger’sPersonal Finance, and others.
Financial return is by no means the only—and for many not even the most important—value of a college degree. And there is clearly not one definition of career success either. But in an environment of growing tuition and questions about college affordability, financial considerations take on a heightened importance. As our Rector Dan Clemente said, “We are taking all appropriate steps to control our costs and find efficiencies while remaining affordable, accessible, and enhancing the quality of our education.” That’s our commitment to our students. I hope they feel we delivered.