The Case for Freezing Tuition & Fees

The following position paper was published by Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a sponsor of the Bacon’s Rebellion blog.

ISSUE:  Tuition and fee increases at public colleges and universities are unaffordable for many Virginia students and families, and must be frozen.

PROBLEM: Tuition and fees at Virginia colleges are increasing at an out-of-control pace, making the cost of higher education a barrier for entry and also constricting graduates who take on debt to attend in-state public universities. In just the past 15 years, the average published tuition and fees charged at a Virginia four-year public institution has increased 3.3 times as fast as Virginia median household income. In that time period, university tuition and fee increases ranged from 149.8% at Old Dominion University to 344% at College of William and Mary, while distinctive higher education costs only increased by 53%.[1] Today, tuition at Virginia’s state universities ranks the seventh highest in America.

While tuition and fees is ultimately a maximum price and financial aid can help offset student costs, in the past 12 years tuition and fees in the state increased by 170%, while state funded financial aid only increased by 75%.[2]  As a result of Virginia’s high growing net cost to students, at least 62% of undergraduate students have turned to loans to attend university, with an average debt level constantly increasing to now $29,822 for recent graduates.[3]  These graduates now make monthly debt payments instead of spending that money contributing to the Virginia economy.

OPPORTUNITY: Dramatically rising tuition has become a national issue and plagues many states.  Recognizing the need to act, several state policymakers and institutional leaders have acknowledged that the ultimate way to improve affordability is to stop the increases in tuition and fees. In the past three years, 23 states have taken the bold move to freeze tuition.[4]  This action attacks the affordability problem at its root, ensuring that students will not spend more money or take out more debt to access public universities in their state.

SOLUTION:  Virginia should stop further tuition and fees increases.  This winter, Virginia public universities are already moving forward with proposed tuition increases for the academic year starting in fall 2018. Policymakers should step in and mandate a tuition and fees freeze at public institutions. During the 2017 Virginia General Assembly Session, legislation was introduced to limit increases in in-state tuition and fees to the annual percentage increases in the consumer price index, national average wage index, and Virginia’s median household income.

Other states that have chosen to implement freezes have done so through legislative mandates. While there are real costs to a high quality higher education that require revenue, Virginia is already in the top 10 of states nationally for dependence on tuition revenue to support higher education costs[5].  Several states have required tuition freezes while considering the need for balanced institutional budgets that focus on student success. For example:

  • California recently passed a four-year plan to freeze tuition in exchange for small increases in state funding to preserve institutional revenue.
  • Ohio has required tuition freezes for much of the past decade, while creating efficiency initiatives for universities to reduce costs without compromising educational quality.

[1]Old Dominion University: 2017 State of the Commonwealth Report

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] State Higher Education Executive Officers Association: State Tuition, Fees, and Financial Assistance 2017 Report.

[5] State Higher Education Executive Officers Association: State Higher Education Finance FY2016 Report

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3 responses to “The Case for Freezing Tuition & Fees

  1. I’m waiting for others … … you’re welcome

  2. Let’s accept the statement of the Issue and the Problem, above.

    But is this the Opportunity for this Solution?

    I think we have to go back to re-examine the premise behind the 2005 Restructuring Act, which was to grant greater freedom to public higher education in Virginia (especially to UVa, W&M and VT) in exchange for greater dependence upon private fundraising ( i.e., through tuition, fees, alumni giving, research and other grants, and businesses such as University hospitals) — meaning, of course, less direct taxpayer funding.

    Is this still the core way forward for h.e. in Virginia? Because, if it is, there can be no halfway about it. What alum is going to dig so deep to support the alma mater that nevertheless remains subject to the whims of the G.A. in every respect relevant to the quality of the undergraduate experience?

    And if so, that casts the debate over the proper role and funding of Virginia’s vibrant community college system in a different light.

    • The 2005 Restructuring Act had two parts. One part, as you said, gave universities more autonomy. The second part made them more accountable to metrics defining state goals. To a significant degree, the second part has been abandoned.

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