DURING spring break, my dad informed me that the final tuition check of my undergraduate career had left the Startt family coffers to subsidize my University education. At the time, this news served merely as a reminder of impending separation anxiety - just one more indication that my University career draws quickly to a close. Now, however, I also am reminded that as a student paying out-of-state tuition, my family's dollars - covering 133 percent of my educational costs - fund not only my education, but any number of other financial endeavors at the University.
Perhaps funding for the construction that has marred the route from the East Lawn to the Corner for the entire semester came out of my tuition dollars. Perhaps they're being used to hire more administrators or fund needed increases in professors' salaries. Yes, the University is strapped for cash, and yes, procuring funds from the General Assembly can make pulling teeth seem a trivial task. With this in mind, I find I'm not as outraged as I used to be by the most recent tuition hike. Still, raising tuition only for the geographic minority at the University when so many projects on Grounds demand increased funding does not seem the most productive alternative.
Yet, we all know that Gov. James S. Gilmore III's (R) oh-so-popular tuition freeze keeps in-state tuition rates at a bare minimum of $4,121, including mandatory fees. But no such legislation prevents the University from reaching ever-deeper into non-Virginians' pockets. The Board of Visitors' decision to impose a 4.9 percent tuition increase on out-of-state students, raising the cost of attendance from $15,617 to $16,393, hardly should come as a shock to any but the newest members of the University. After all, annual out-of-state tuition hikes have become as traditional as dressing up for football games.
In the long-term, such a decision will decrease the financial incentive to attend the University for non-Virginians who consider this the best educational bargain in the country. They won't be as willing to spend four times the amount that their in-state colleagues fork over each year to attend the same institution. Thus, the private schools that once seemed an overly-stressful financial burden when compared to the University will not be as quickly or confidently tossed aside.
I'm leaving the University soon, a fact I no longer can deny. The ever-rising cost of a University education for out-of-state students no longer will affect me directly. It will affect the countless non-Virginian prospective students who eventually will comprise the class of 2004, and of course the thousands of out-of-state students already in attendance.
I care about this tuition raise because I think the University is a spectacular place and has the capacity to attract the brightest students from not only the state, but the entire nation. And I'm willing to pay a reasonable amount to enjoy the privilege of attending this institution. Most students, Virginians and non-Virginians alike, likely would say the same.
Tuition increases are necessary to compensate for inflation, to provide the University with enhanced resources and, I would hope, to create a more beneficial educational experience for students. The problem at the University lies with an in-state tuition freeze that does not allow the Board of Visitors to mandate that in-state students shoulder a reasonable proportion of the University's ever-increasing monetary burdens.
Even in-state students who benefit from the perpetual freeze should appreciate its detriment to the University. How can Virginians demand increased course offerings, increased faculty salaries and improved facilities on one hand, and also mandate tuition rate stagnation?
In-state students should not have to pay the same amount as their non-Virginian counterparts. Virginia tax dollars do help finance the University and thus, in-state students should enjoy the privilege of lower tuition. But holding in-state tuition stagnant while imposing increasingly higher rates on out-of-state students to compensate does not create the most productive outcome. We all benefit from the opportunities the University provides. We should all be willing, then, to contribute to its upkeep and improvement in a manner reflective of changes in the economy and fluctuating financial demands.
(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily.)