WVU Rep: Rising tuition doesn’t change school’s value

Rob Alsop

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University remains the best ‘bang for your buck’ in the region, according to WVU’s Rob Alsop.

Alsop, the school’s VP for Strategic Initiatives, said WVU still is better value per semester than regional rivals like Virginia Tech or the University of Kentucky during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.

“A decision about tuition is one of the hardest things we make, and it requires a balancing of several factors,” he said. “We do still think it’s a good deal, particularly when you consider the Promise (Scholarship) and the amount of financial aid our students get.”

“I think over half of our students had all of their, at least for tuition and fees, taken care of to where there is no debt related to that when they left.”

The WVU Board of Governors approved a 5.73 percent tuition hike last Friday, marking an overall increase of close to 26 percent for students entering their senior year compared to their entrance as freshmen.

“We believe we are a great value,” Alsop said. “We also know that we’re one of the most economically-challenged in this state. It doesn’t give me great pride to say, ‘gee, we’ve got to increase your tuition by 5.7 percent.'”

“Is that affordable in the overall context of the value you’re getting when you leave and what you’re getting for return on that? I don’t have any problem justifying it and looking you in the eye and saying we’re going to help.”

University reps have also pointed to WVU’s student debt rate as a sign that the school remains highly competitive when it comes to keeping costs low. WVU is approximately $10,000 below the national average for undergraduate students leaving school with student debt.

The increased tuition is primarily going to fund across-the-board five percent pay raises for all state employees, as signed into law by the Governor earlier this year in what marked the end of the state’s nine-day teacher work stoppage.

“Very little, I think it’s around 15 or 16 percent of our appropriations, actually comes from the State,” Alsop said.

That meant, along with about $6 million in cuts, the University would need to fund raises in another manner.

“I think it’s around $16 or $18 million dollars for salaries and benefits for the pay raise,” Alsop said. “The State provided around $3.2 million dollars for that. So that’s a $10 to $12 million dollar unfunded mandate from there.”

“It’s also been two or three years since there’s been a pay raise at the University, particularly as it relates to a lot of our lower paid or hourly employees,” he added. “We’ve fallen below the market.”

Alsop said those employees who received additional pay raises were low-wage workers whose pay was below 90 percent of the market.

“These are some of the folks who live paycheck to paycheck and needed an adjustment,” he said. “And so we made that.”

The increases in tuition will not be used to fund Gee’s university-related air travel on private planes though, following reports earlier this year by WCHS-TV and the Charleston Gazette-Mail that 99 percent of those dollars came from the tuition fund.

“I think in the overall scope of things, for what President Gee does and what he means to the University and how much he is everywhere whether it’s the Boy Scouts or our obligations with the Big 12 or fundraising opportunities, I think it’s a great investment,” Alsop said.

It was previously reported that Gee flew 63 times using a private plane from Morgantown to Charleston, costing more than $4,500 per trip.

“If you’re asking for a return on investment of what that plane allows, not only President Gee, but faculty or researchers or whomever who have to be a lot of different places, it is a good investment.”

The airfare will not be funded through tuition and fees anymore, but Alsop called Gee’s ability to move around the state and the region quickly a very “positive” return on investment.

“He could not keep up the pace and do everything he does for the University with the fundraising opportunities, with what he does from a service perspective in his schedule, moving forward,” Alsop said.

The University is currently in it’s first summer session of 2018.

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