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Virginia Tech board approves 2.9% tuition hike after rejecting university's initial proposal

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BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s governing board voted Monday to hike tuition by 2.9%, ultimately rejecting the university’s proposal to use one-time state funding to limit the increase to 2.1%.

The university had initially proposed a 2.9% increase that would be offset for one year by about $5 million in state funding — lowering it to 2.1%.

Instead, board members expressed concern that such a temporary, across-the-board relief only served to kick potentially higher tuition increases down the road.

“I don’t want to get trapped into something where we’ve been low so long that there’s an expectation that we’re never going to go up again,” board member Preston White said during a discussion Sunday on tuition and fees.

Tech hasn’t raised tuition since 2018 because of the pandemic’s economic effects on families last year and increased state funds in 2019.

Members on other college boards are whispering about tuition increases for 2022 in the 4- to 5% range, White said, in part because the General Assembly this year approved 5% salary increases for state employees which are only partially paid for by the state.

“We should consider the 2.9. I know nobody wants to hear that because it is going up,” he said. “I’m trying to be realistic about where we are today and where we’re going to be a year from today.”

Rather than decrease the tuition hike to 2.1% next year, the board on Monday adopted a resolution that the 0.8% difference, $4.9 million, would go toward “compliance,” including auditing and managing legal risks; faculty retention and recruitment; and “accessibility to drive diversity and inclusion.”

In-state undergraduates will see a tuition increase next fall of $331, from $11,420 to $11,751 and for out-of-state students, by $869, from $29,960 $30,829.

The 0.8% difference between a 2.1% and 2.9% increase amounts to $93 per Virginia student and $245 for out-of-state student.

Comprehensive fees will increase by $90 for all undergraduates and graduate students, mainly to pay for expanded health clinic hours and athletic staff wage increases, according to presentations at the board.

Separately, housing and dining costs will also increase, by an average of 1.9% and 5.6%, respectively.

The board’s unanimous approval of the 2.9% tuition increase on Monday was a turnaround from the actions Sunday of the group’s finance and resource management committee.

On Sunday, committee members wrestled with the university’s initial proposal but eventually greenlit it.

“My whole point is that I think we have a skinny budget, we have a skinny admin cost. I want us to be very aware of what we [are] doing,” White said Sunday. “As far as the state, I don’t put any faith in the state to give us money based on anything. They’ve shortchanged us this year, us and the University of Virginia, on a $40 million [budget item]. We were the only two colleges that got shortchanged. The rest — everybody else got the money. I don’t really have a lot of faith in the Assembly to give us anything based on anything.”

White did not specify what $40 million item he was talking about.

Board Rector Horacio Valeiras agreed with not using state funds for a temporary decrease in the tuition hike.

“Unless the state is willing to turn some of this money into permanent money, I’m with Preston,” Valeiras said Sunday. “I think we need to consider the sticker shock not only this year but also next year.”

Board members also questioned whether the university should reexamine the logic behind its Funds for the Future program, which waives tuition and fee increases for returning students whose families make up to $100,000 annually.

“You know, $100,000 in Northern Virginia is very different from $100,000 in Southside Virginia,” Valeiras said. “One of my thoughts on this is maybe this is the opportunity to tweak our Funds for the Future, taking into account kind of the different cost of living. Because a family that’s making $100,000 in Northern Virginia with three students in college can’t afford a tuition increase, while, you know, a family making $100,000 in another part of Virginia with one kid in college could afford it.”

Valeiras mused whether the university would be better off having the one-time $4.9 million to help low-income students get a Tech education rather than give it back to every student.

“Between a rock and a hard place,” White said after board member Anna James made a motion to approve the university’s 2.1% plan in the finance committee.

“I would like to amend the motion to 2.5%,” he added, which prompted a murmur throughout the room.

After pushback from committee members, though, White ultimately dropped his amendment and the committee approved the university’s 2.1% plan on Sunday.

“I think the original recommendation is well thought out,” said board member Charles “C.T.” Hill. “I think the 2.5 [percent increase] for the students is a mistake.”

But on Monday, the full board unanimously approved the higher rates after White amended the committee’s recommendation to 2.9%.

Tech President Tim Sands said the discussion reflected debate over how to fund the university’s core values. He noted Tech’s strategic plan includes both a drive to enroll more lower-income students and a drive to increase faculty pay, two goals that are fiscally in conflict.

“I really don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other,” Sands said Sunday. “I think the arguments are really good for both the 2.9 and the 2.1” rate increases.

The board on Monday also approved a 5% increase in graduate student stipends.

The board gave final approval to a nearly $100 refund in transportation fees to students this semester after the town of Blacksburg allocated federal stimulus funds to the university.

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