Diminishing state funding forces rising tuition
by CHARLES W. STEGER '69
Periodically, I have addressed in this magazine the effects of state funding on university operations. Too many times during the past 10 years, we've discussed the impact of non-funding--indeed, a disinvestment. The current fiscal landscape for higher education is as bad as anything I've experienced during four decades in higher education.
Funding cuts already incurred and those on the horizon threaten Virginia's laudable colleges and universities. Today, state funding for instruction at Virginia Tech is $40 million less than when the decade began, even though in-state undergraduate enrollment has increased by 13 percent since 2005 (about 2,000 more Virginians). Less than one-third of the funding for the University Division, where instruction takes place, comes from the state. Using figures adjusted for inflation, the commonwealth will provide, for the coming fiscal year, 48 percent less for every in-state student than it did in 2000-01. The state share of the overall university budget, which includes residence halls, dining halls, research, athletics, and other operations not funded by the state, is now about 23 percent.
We have, on many occasions, demonstrated the tremendous payback states obtain from educated citizens, directly through increased tax collections and indirectly via the public benefits of an educated populace. The effects of higher education on economic viability and attendant national security implications are well understood--but we’re beyond communicating benefits now. States cannot or will not fund higher education.
After decades of cuts, simple belt-tightening is not an option. With the baby boom echo in full swing, more students than ever seek seats at this table. Cutting enrollment or cutting programs is not a viable choice. The net effect, here and in other states, is a huge cost shift to the shoulders of students and their families. To keep the doors open, to continue to provide the quality expected from Virginia Tech, tuition has risen significantly in this decade and will continue to rise.
We will not forget those who are struggling financially. We are fully cognizant of educational empowerment. When tuition rises, we allocate a portion to the financial aid budget. We are efficient. Our cost to educate a student is less today than it was 10 years ago.
Our prices will remain competitive with peer universities. Indeed, when looking at the overall cost to attend Virginia Tech, we still rank in the lower quartile when compared to our 23 peer institutions. If you check the costs of our sister schools in Virginia or comparable flagships in the mid-Atlantic region, you will see that we remain a great value. At the end of 2009, Kiplinger again ranked us among the nation's top 20 best values for public universities. U.S. News & World Report considers us to be among the best 30 public universities in America. Early this year, Princeton Review ranked us among the nation's top 10 values for public universities.
So, the university remains strong and well-respected and is educating more students than at any time in its history. However, our financial structure--the way we keep the doors open--is changing. Tuition is paying an ever-increasing share of the bills. Please know and understand the reasons why, and please know that such changes are absolutely essential to preserving Virginia Tech as we know it.