Last week, the West Virginia University Board of Governors approved increases in tuition and fees for next school year. The changes are significant for their size—they are small.
The charges for in-state students will rise by just 1.36 percent, or about $60 per semester, while out-of-state student tuition and fees are going up by 1.44 percent, or about $180 per semester. They are the smallest in at least 20 years.
The modest hikes represent a pivot for the university. Increases of four to six percent annually had become the norm, with occasional higher spikes. In-state tuition and fees rose nearly 10 percent in 2015. For the last ten years, costs rose an average of five percent for in-state students and four percent for out-of-state students.
WVU officials say much smaller hikes will be the new norm. The school cannot price itself higher than peer institutions. Additionally—and this may be the most important reason—holding the line on costs should help with student retention.
Currently, one in five members of the freshman class at WVU won’t make it to their sophomore year. There are many variables that contribute to students dropping out, but the cost of a college education is one of them. A higher retention rate means more paying students.
When deciding whether to go to college and where, cost is almost always a factor. A survey by Sallie Mae, which is a major player in student loans, found that three-quarters of families say they weighed “cost and affordability” as part of the college selection process.
With the increases, WVU undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 school year will total $8,976 for West Virginians and $25,320 for students who come to Morgantown from elsewhere. That’s still a lot of money, but the rates are comparable or lower than peer institutions.
For example, in-state tuition at Maryland is $10,762. Texas A & M’s is $10,862. Missouri’s tuition is $11,906. Arizona’s 2019 resident tuition is $12,400. Connecticut will charge $17,226 next school year.
WVU’s ten-year trend of significant annual tuition and fee increases was becoming a problem. West Virginia is not a wealthy state. Our median household income is just over $43,000, and only one in five of our residents has at least a bachelor’s degree.
As the state’s flagship university, WVU has an obligation to serve as a practical and aspirational leader for the state. That is evident in the university’s mission statement. “As a land-grant institution, the faculty and students at West Virginia University commit to creating a diverse and inclusive culture that advances education, healthcare and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity [emphasis added]; by advancing high-impact research; and by leading transformation in West Virginia and the world through local, state and global engagement.”
The words “access and opportunity” are just as important, if not more important, as the other goals within the statement. For West Virginia University to stay true to the values of its mission statement it must continue to be an affordable option.