HESS: U.Va. must do more to prevent tuition hikes

The University needs to deal with rising costs if it truly wants to be welcoming and affordable to all students

rotunda-eklein

 While the University may have external forces causing it to repeatedly raise tuition year after year, it must take steps to end this behavior and stay true to its mission.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

The cost of higher education in the United States has been steadily increasing over the past few decades, and U.Va. is no exception. In fact, the University is the most expensive public school in the nation for out-of-state students — and its in-state price tag is one of the highest in the Commonwealth. When all is said and done, the total cost of attendance for students in the College comes out to be around $33,000 for in-state students and $64,000 for out-of-state students — both of which are significantly above the average national total cost.

Recently, the Board of Visitors unanimously approved an in-state tuition freeze for the first time in the University’s history due to extra funding granted from the General Assembly. While this may sound promising, the freeze only lasts for one year, and it does not halt the 3.5 percent increase on out-of-state tuition. Looking at historical trends, there is little chance that an additional $5.52 million will be granted to the University anytime soon. Over the past 19 years, tuition and fees alone have increased by over 165 percent, and it does not appear to be slowing down.

While prices have been rising, that does not necessarily mean the University has been ignoring this issue. The University has started programs such as Access UVA and claims to match 100 percent of all demonstrated financial need — but the problem is that “demonstrated financial need” is different for everyone. Some people may have little help from parents in paying for their education, while a few tax forms may not accurately describe the entire financial situation for others. A financial aid package award of loans and an optional work-study may also not be enough or the right option for many students entering the University.

The problems causing these hikes in tuition are not just purely a University issue — they are also closely related to national trends and state funding. Public universities in America have been seeing tuition rise exponentially over the last 20 years, but most have not risen as fast or as significantly as U.Va. State funds also make up a very small fraction of the University’s budget, giving reason for potential tuition increases. These reasons may make recent tuition increases sound just, but they do no fully let the University off the hook.

The mission statement of the University states that it is defined by a “universal dedication to excellence and affordable access.” While the University may have external forces causing it to repeatedly raise tuition year after year, it must take steps to end this behavior and stay true to its mission. Maintaining academic prowess and the University’s position as a top public institution is important, but there will eventually come a time when the price tag will be too high for many to justify the cost of attending this institution. Growing and expanding is imperative to the continued excellence of the University, but it must be done in a way that is sustainable for all who are driven to attend.

When dedicating resources to new programs — such as a new School of Data Science — and raising tuition during student’s third and fourth year, the BOV and other administration officials must recognize that every rise in price potentially dissuades potential applicants. This dynamic can only strengthen toxic elitism throughout the student body and hurt first-generation and low-income students. Even if more state support for higher education could ease or stop increases, it falls on the University to find ways to become more affordable while still lobbying state and federal government to support students financially and academically. 

Out-of-state tuition must and should be higher than the in-state price — but being almost double the cost of in-state tuition is sky high compared to the majority of schools across the nation. The Commonwealth and University must work together to keep the price lower for residents, but lower the cost for everyone in the process of doing so. If the University actually wants to foster a community composed of individuals from across the world and from all socioeconomic backgrounds, it must actively be searching for solutions to end tuition increases and potentially lowering the cost of attendance. If it does not, then the University will be doing a disservice to itself by barring many potential students from U.Va., which will only feed into the hierarchical and exclusive nature of higher education in the U.S.       

Hunter Hess is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

related stories