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State Funding for Higher Education Falls Far Below 2/3 Goal

Steve Helber



As parents and students prepare for another semester of college, they’re also figuring out how to pay the ever-increasing bill. Tuition and fees at public universities continue to rise, and lawmakers and higher education officials are at odds over who's responsible.


In just five years, tuition and fees for one year at the University of Virginia have risen from about $12,000 to $16,000.

It’s a trend that isn’t isolated to one university.

“You can’t sustain tuition increases forever,” says Dan Hix with the State Council for Higher Education. “Virginia is not alone in budgets and the economy and the impact it has had on higher ed. It’s a discretionary activity, seen that way in Virginia budget-wise.”

Meaning that, for years, as the economy has gotten tight, the state’s General Assembly has opted to cut funding to higher education. This year, funding was reduced by an average of 2.5-percent.

A new report from SCHEV finds rising costs are largely tied to the state of Virginia’s economy, and funding from the General Assembly.

In 2004, Virginia set a goal of paying ? of an in-state student’s share of tuition. This upcoming year the state is expected to pay just shy of half. Hix, who helped author the report, says it would take a state investment of more than $600-million to make up the difference.

“We estimated that you could reduce the average tuition by about a third if all the sudden you had what it took on the general fund side, which is quite a lot and nobody is suggesting that that can happen anytime soon,” says Hix.

But some lawmakers say that’s just one part of a complex equation. They call on universities to take a critical look at how they’re spending the money: Are they building new dining halls? Raising faculty salaries?

Lawmakers in Virginia’s House of Delegates Budget Committee heard a presentation last Fall that took a deeper dive into the numbers. According to that report, increases in student life fees were responsible for more than half of the increased cost of college.

Dan Hix says there’s no doubt about it, lowering costs is a balancing act.

“Both the state and institutions, and their boards, I think are learning you have to adapt, you have to look at your expenses, and you have to have sufficient support from the state to keep this affordable,” he says.  

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association

Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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