It’s a running joke among many VCU students when a new building appears on campus to say, “and that’s where our tuition goes,” but with the latest round of tuition increases I am finding myself seriously asking, “Where does my tuition go?”
In May, the Board of Visitors approved a $414 or 4.19 percent increase in tuition. Sound familiar? It’s the fifth year in a row that tuition has increased at the university.
In addition to the tuition increases, the university is now instituting a new payment structure that charges students based on the amount of credit hours they take. The amount changes depending on the total number of credits being taken that semester. For example, the first 14 credits will be charged at about $340 an hour. Students taking more than 15 credits or more will be charged at about $170 an hour.
The new payment structure will only apply to new students. Current and returning students will be grandfathered into the old block pricing structure. The university will subsidize the difference under the old flat rate system, since it is less expensive compared to the new pay per-credit system.
The National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education keeps track of tuition costs plus room and board and adjusts the numbers for inflation. In 1980, the average cost of tuition at a public university was $2,550. In 1990, it increased to around $5,200. By 2000, it was almost $8,700. By 2010, the average cost of tuition reached nearly $16,000.
Essentially, the cost of tuition is increasing at a rate of about 4 percent or $450 each year, causing it to nearly double every decade. That means tuition costs are growing faster than inflation and wages in the U.S.
With student loan debt overtaking credit card debt as a result of rising tuition costs, there are quite a few consequences to this, such as college graduates defaulting on their payments and having to hold on saving for their own retirement or making a down payment on a mortgage. With VCU students already graduating with an average student loan debt of $27,000, the school should expect that number to increase.
When compared to tuition cost among developed countries, the U.S. is the most expensive country to attend college.
So where exactly does our tuition go and why does it continue to rise?
In May, VCU president Michael Rao sent an email to students that read, in part, “Revenues generated by tuition directly support your education. Those dollars are used to retain and recruit top faculty members and to enhance your student experience, including advising, scholarships, financial aid and learning-living programs.”
A walk through the Commons reveals that the university has recently spent money on large flat screen televisions. They may look nice to prospective students, but they certainly do not “directly support your education.”
Over the course of my time here, VCU has spent a lot of energy in trying to promote its “brand” through its basketball program and outfitting busses that run through the city to display VCU logos. Strong academic programs should be self-promoting and universities such as VCU should not rely on bells and whistles to sell itself. Our education and its quality is what is going to follow us when we graduate. A bus and vending machines with VCU logos on them will not.
It would be exceedingly beneficial for the university to be more transparent about where and how student tuition and fee money is spent. Releasing information on the number of faculty retained each year could begin to justify money spent to do so. Students should be able to see whether tuition is going toward staff who really do enhance our educational experience or just campus amenities.
It is a well-researched fact that college is one of the best investments one can make for onesself in both the direct benefits it has and the spillover effects it has for society.As VCU becomes a more nationally recognized university, the issue of rising tuition will become a huge barrier to entry to for many low income and first generation college students.
As the university becomes less affordable, many of these students will put off going because they will perceive the benefits to not be worth the cost of attending. This could end up establishing the university as a place for students of more affluent backgrounds. With the close relationship between VCU and the city of Richmond and the university’s role as one of the biggest employers in the area, the consequences of high tuition costs can be detrimental once those costs begin to supercede the school’s reputation.