Students could pay per credit hour in 2013-2014

Originally published April 15, 2013 in The Commonwealth Times

Liz Butterfield
Assistant News Editor

Williamsburg, Va.  A minimum 4 percent increase in tuition and a change to a per-credit payment structure were proposed in a budget presentation to the VCU Board of Visitors on Sunday.

David Hanson, VCU’s senior vice president for finance and administration, proposed changing the tuition structure of the university from a flat rate for full-time students to a per-credit basis for tuition.

Hanson said there will be downsides to any proposed budget solution, but said there is no easy way to solve the financial problems. He proposed a few strategies to solve budgetary issues including increasing tuition by at least 4 percent, charging more for on-campus parking and creating a full slate of summer classes for students.

“Anything we can do to help (students) get to a degree faster, even if it might cost a bit more for the incoming students to get to that 15-hour point … it’s going to be a huge gain because they’re not going to have $50,000 to $60,000 more in debt,” Hanson said.

President Michael Rao introduced some proposals for VCU’s yearly budget to the members of the Board and expressed his concerns about rising tuition, cost for students and finding appropriate funding for other university expenses.

“I’m going to continue to do everything I can, my team will continue to do everything that they can to continue to escalate the substantial progress that we’ve made in these areas but we’ve got some work to do and we’ve got to start thinking,” Rao said.

Undergraduate students currently registered for 12 to 18 credits are classified as full-time and charged a flat rate for tuition, according to the Fall 2012-Spring 2013 Tuition, Fees & Other Expenses report.

In 2012, the Board of Visitors approved an annual tuition cost of $9,885.46 for in-state undergraduate students for the 2012-2013 school year, an increase of 3.87 percent from the previous academic year. A minimum 4 percent increase in tuition next year could cost students nearly $400 more annually.

“The pros and cons to this really come down to are we willing to charge students as consumers for what they consume knowing that the kids who take 15, 16, 17 hours are going to be paying a little bit more than the current pricing schedule,” Hanson said.

Hanson estimated that it takes an average student at VCU between five and six years to graduate, costing them more over time in tuition and living expenses. One of Hanson’s proposals included changing the tuition structure of the university from block-based tuition for full-time students to a per-credit basis for tuition and encouraging students to take more classes each semester. Although it may cost more initially, Hanson said, taking more classes now will reduce the overall cost of attending college for more than four years.

Each of the budget dynamics falls in line with the five outlined strategies of the Quest for Distinction, according to Hanson.

Rao said he wants to increase some key areas of raising money for the university, including increasing fundraising projects and to “create a culture of giving that begins with the students.” Rao said VCU needs to make sure the university continues to be competitive with comparable institutions.

“We need to be thinking about prudent, and I will say ethical and moral investment, and financial management to ensure that we have the competitive returns that are necessary for the success of our students and our faculty,” he said.

The Board discussed the struggle to balance revenues from tuition with university expenditures, including new building projects, additional student services and new faculty hires. Currently, in the six-year capital plan for VCU’s developing projects, including new buildings or needed renovations, 27 projects have received no source of secured funding yet. VCU expects to receive $9.7 million from the state in the upcoming months, and would receive an additional 8.7 million from tuition if increased by only 4 percent, according to the budget presentation.

“It’s just an incredible amount of need for limited resources,” said Board of Visitors vice rector William Ginther.

“I think what everybody’s the most worried about is how can we come up with a number that makes sense and it’s not going to impact students but at the same time it’s going to allow VCU to move ahead,” he said.

Pamela Lepley, a spokesperson for VCU, said a tuition increase will no longer take care of all the financial problems of the university, and the school has to also keep in mind what is affordable by students.

“It’s a complicated issue, but in the end it’s being very creative and business-like and moving VCU forward so that students get a good education and get it in four years with minimum impact,” she said.

A full budget proposal will be presented to the board during their May 10 meeting when they will vote on the budget and the cost of tuition for the 2013-2014 school year. The Board is legally responsible for passing a balanced budget, according to Hanson, or else they will have to pay  the difference themselves.

But even with needed improvements to the campus, some students are reacting negatively to the proposed changes. Bria Crawford, a junior public relations major said rising tuition makes it harder for her to stay in school. “They need to lower tuition,” she said. “I came here in (2009) and the cost has gone up greatly, and I can’t afford it.”

Crawford said she had to take at least one semester off because she couldn’t afford school. “At the end of the day … I don’t see the point in raising tuition. We pay enough … it shouldn’t be that much to pay for an education.”

Crawford also said that if VCU changed the tuition structure to a per-credit payment system, then she and other students she knows would likely take less credits each semester, even though that may mean staying in college longer.

“If it helps then I say I’m in favor of it because I’m in the more 12-to-13 credit load,” Crawford said.

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