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Public colleges across W.Va. raising tuition — again

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Public colleges across W.Va. raising tuition — again
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

All but one of West Virginia’s public four-year colleges intend to raise in-state tuition and fees next academic year — most by about 5 percent, and several by more. That’s according to information reviewed Friday by the state Higher Education Policy Commission, which, in separate action at its meeting at Shepherd University, approved the first new higher education institution to operate in the Mountain State since 2009, reauthorized a Harrison County for-profit school it previously had voiced concerns over, OK’d a West Virginia State University music program over objections from Marshall University and placed on a 30-day public comment period a policy to help more West Virginians earn degrees.

Marshall has yet to propose tuition and fee levels for 2015-16 — interim President Gary White said last month that his school is trying to draft a budget that won’t require a general tuition increase, although school officials said they didn’t know at the time how a planned restructuring of academic fees would affect the overall average cost for students. If Marshall does avoid a cost increase, it will be alone among Mountain State public institutions.

In-state undergraduate students will see annual tuition and fees increases in 2015-16 at the following schools:
*Bluefield State College: $290 (5 percent) increase, to $6,120 (33 percent increase since 2010-11)
*Concord University: $320 (5 percent) increase, to $6,740 (36 percent since 2010-11)
*Fairmont State University: $310 (5 percent) increase, to $6,620 (28 percent increase since 2010-11)
*Glenville State College: $340 (5 percent) increase, to $7,030 (44 percent increase since 2010-11)
*Shepherd University: $260 (4 percent) increase, to $6,830 (30 percent increase since 2010-11)
*West Liberty University: $290 (5 percent) increase, to $6,700 (37 percent increase since 2010-11)
 *West Virginia University Institute of Technology: $290 (5 percent) increase, to $6,340 (23 percent increase since 2010-11).

HEPC staff members noted that, last month, Glenville State’s Board of Governors approved keeping tuition the same for four years for students who complete 30 or more credit hours per year toward their major while keeping at least a 2.0 grade point average.

State law doesn’t require the HEPC to approve increases that are 5 percent or below.

The commission will hold a special meeting June 22, ahead of the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, to consider approving WVU’s requested 10 percent increase for in-state undergraduates at its Morgantown campus and 8 percent increase for in-state undergraduates pursuing four-year degrees at its Potomac State College campus, which offers both two-year and four-year degrees.

It also will consider WVSU’s requested 7 percent increase and Marshall’s increase, if it changes course and decides on a more than 5 percent tuition jump. After expressing concern over ever-increasing tuition, commissioners passed a resolution Friday requiring schools to submit their upcoming budgets for review at or before the time they request increases above 5 percent.

“The commission really wants the full picture,” HEPC spokeswoman Jessica Tice said after the meeting.

WVU hasn’t approved a budget yet, despite asking for the largest tuition and fees increase this year — atop what is already the highest cost among West Virginia’s public colleges and universities. Its Board of Governors plans to meet on the issue next week.

The Mountain State has one of the nation’s lowest percentages of residents who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Tuition in West Virginia has increased by almost a third — by $1,630 — since the 2007-08 academic year, around when the latest national recession began, and it was one of only four states to increase tuition this academic year by more than 4 percent, after adjusting for inflation, according to a report released earlier this month by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That organization — which aims to reduce poverty and inequality and is funded by organizations such as the Walmart Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — noted that West Virginia was one of only 13 states to cut per-student higher education funding for this academic year, one of only five to cut it by more than $100 per student and one of only three to cut it two years in a row. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state lawmakers have cut higher education funding again for 2015-16.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a state budget cutting higher education spending by about $4.6 million, but Tomblin line-item vetoed the bill to bring the cuts up to $7 million before signing the budget into law.

The spending cuts followed the state’s elimination of its business franchise and food taxes and the reduction of its corporate income tax, according to the nonprofit West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, which says those cuts were responsible for $425 million in reduced revenue this fiscal year — a loss that will continue in the future.
Kay Goodwin, a member of the HEPC and secretary of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, suggested Friday that her fellow commissioners analyze the increasing number of administrators with over-six-figure salaries.

Commission Chairman Bruce Berry, who is starting his seventh year on the HEPC, said it’s important for the commission, the Legislature and the public colleges to work together on what he called his top priority: stopping increasing college costs. He said he dislikes that colleges can raise tuition by up to 5 percent without HEPC approval. He said the commission will look at institutions’ justifications for tuition increases of more than 5 percent but will not “rubber stamp” increases, despite the closeness of the June meeting to the new fiscal year. He said containing costs is important, given the continuing decline of the coal industry in West Virginia.

“We are an aging state,” he said. “If we don’t do something to change that, if we don’t do something positive for the future and quit relying on the past, where our economy dwelt, we have a problem.”