Category Archives: Tuition, affordability, scholarships

Rubber Stamp Governance

by James A. Bacon

Earlier this month the Jefferson Council noted that the Board of Visitors had virtually no input into decision-making for setting the University of Virginia’s tuition & fees in 2025 and 2026. The three-month process, orchestrated by senior administrators, presented a carefully curated set of statistics and allowed no opportunity for board members to engage in substantive discussion.

Based on my observation of the public meetings I attended, it struck me that Board oversight was a sham, and that the Board’s vote in December to approve 3.0% tuition increases rubber-stamped a decision made by the Ryan administration. But I muted my conclusions in writing because I still had questions about how the process worked.

I submitted several questions to Chief Communications Officer Brian Coy. The administration’s response removes any lingering doubts. Continue reading

A Spoonful of Sugar…

by James A. Bacon

A major piece of the University of Virginia’s value proposition is a promise to meet 100% of a student’s financial needs through grants, loans and work study. In the past, the University covered tuition, fees, room and board for students in families with incomes of less than $30,000 yearly and tuition & fees for students in families earning $80,000 or less. President Jim Ryan announced Friday that the University would bump up the thresholds to $50,000 and $100,000.

The change sends a message to families that UVa’s “doors are wide open” to families regardless of financial circumstance, Ryan declared.

The boost to financial aid was part of the administration’s messaging in announcing the 3% increases in tuition & fees in the next two academic years. Said UVA Today:

“UVA remains an extraordinary value with robust financial aid packages and loan caps, high graduation and job placement rates and a world-class educational experience,” President Jim Ryan said. “We are committed to ensuring our doors remain open to the very best students, regardless of their family’s income, and we will continue to invest in scholarship support. I’m grateful to the board for their partnership in this work.”

As Julie Andrews famously sang in “Mary Poppins,” “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” The upgrade to UVa’s financial aid package was the spoonful of sugar to sweeten the additional $21 million in tuition & fees revenue UVa can expect to collect from students next year with its 3.0% increase. Continue reading

Does UVa Need to Charge Higher Tuition to Keep Pay Competitive?

by James A. Bacon

The Ryan administration notched up two big wins in the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting Thursday and Friday. It pushed through 3% tuition increases for the next two academic years and it framed the budgetary debate to its advantage. Rather than engaging in a wide-ranging discussion of how UVa might hold down costs, the Board spent most of its time talking about the challenge of hiring and retaining faculty and staff, with the implicit assumption that staying competitive will require higher pay, more money, and higher tuitions.

The administration carefully orchestrated the discussion of tuition & fees from the very beginning — through an initial Finance Committee meeting in October, a public hearing on tuition increases at which only one person testified in November, and then the Board vote Friday. Each step of the way, the administration made lengthy presentations contending that UVa provides a superior value proposition to students, that it has restrained spending, and that inflationary pressures and cutbacks in state funding compel the university to raise tuition. Discussion was restricted to the data presented by the administration. Past efforts by board members to obtain additional information about UVa’s cost structure — in particular, about administrative costs — were ignored.

Bert Ellis, a former president of the Jefferson Council and appointee of Governor Glenn Youngkin, was the only board member to abstain from voting for the tuition increases. The seven other Youngkin appointees on the Board voted for the tuition increases, as did every holdover from the Northam administration.

The Ryan administration presented a case that was sometimes valid but frequently used cherrypicked data or made points that were shorn of context, as the Jefferson Council has documented in previous posts. There are no simple answers to the question of what the “right” level of tuition & fees should be. Optimal tradeoffs between affordability and costs require a vigorous and free-ranging debate at the Board level that simply did not occur. Continue reading

UVa Board Approves Tuition Increase

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved Friday increases 3% in tuition & fees for in-state and out-of-state undergraduates for the 2024-25 and 2025-25 academic years. The precise tuition will vary, depending upon students’ in-state/out-of-state residency, undergraduate/graduate status, and the school or college they are attending. (The schedule is viewable here, pages 3 through 6.)

The vote was unanimous with the exception of one abstention. Bert Ellis said he had joined the Board with the understanding that “college expenses are too high.” Out of respect for J.J. Davis, UVa’s chief operating officer responsible for compiling the budget in an arduous process, he said, he did not vote against the increases, but he wasn’t going to vote for them either. He is putting his “stake in the ground,” he added, promising to carry on the fight against high costs and tuition in the future.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the percentage increases approved by the Board, which had not been made explicit at the time of the Board vote and this article was posted. Continue reading

Tuition as Engine of Wealth Redistribution

Source: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV)

by James A. Bacon

When Congress adjusts the tax code to promote income redistribution between the rich and poor, a debate plays out in the national media. When universities adjust their tuition to promote income distribution, by contrast, the process is so shrouded in secrecy that the public has no idea it’s occurring.

That process is less invisible in Virginia than it once was, thanks to a Youngkin administration initiative to post the most comprehensive higher-ed data analysis ever compiled on the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) website. But the data will sit there — as good as invisible — until someone looks at it. And even publicizing the data is next to worthless if key decision makers — university administrations, activist groups, Boards of Visitors — don’t use it to inform their discussions.

The report, compiled over a six-month process with guidance from the Boston Consulting Group, explores three broad themes: enrollment trends, labor market trends, and financial effectiveness & sustainability. SCHEV looks at industry-wide trends for Virginia’s system of public education as well as detailed breakdowns by institution.

There is an immense amount of data to explore, some of which that will prove familiar to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion and some of it not. For this post I am focusing on tuition as a tool for wealth redistribution because that is data we have never seen before. Continue reading

UVa Proposes 3% to 4.4% Tuition Increases Next Two Years

The University of Virginia administration has asked the Board of Visitors to consider tuition increases in the range of 3.0% and 4.4% over each of the next two years, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis revealed in a Finance Committee public hearing this morning.

Davis cited inflation, declining state support, and the need to keep salaries competitive as justifications for the proposed increase. The full board will address the proposal in its regularly scheduled meeting next month. She also noted that tuition increases have moderated in recent years.

The hearing, required by state law, gave students the opportunity to provide input on tuition increases. Only one submitted a comment.

Nate Wells, a third-year, in-state student in the Batten School, told how his older brother enrolled at Ohio State University as an out-of-state student for less than it costs at UVa. “Around grounds we hear how UVa stacks up against peer institutions. … UVa is incredibly expensive, the third highest public university in the country.” He urged the Board of Visitors to keep the increase on hte low side of the range.

Earlier this month the Jefferson Council released its analysis of tuition and cost trends. Among the top-line findings: Only one-third of the tuition increase between 2002 and 2022 can be attributed to a cutback in state support. Higher spending — inflation-adjusted spending per pupil increased 50% over that time — accounted for the rest.

Davis alluded to an “efficiency and effectiveness” study underway, the results of which the university will share in the December board meeting. The administration has given no clue about the study’s focus, or whether it is tackling core cost issues such as mission creep, administrative bloat, or faculty productivity.


Rising Costs Pushing UVa Tuition Higher

The Jefferson Council released the following press release this morning (Nov. 9, 2023):

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Rising costs, not cutbacks in state aid, are primarily responsible for pushing tuition higher at the University of Virginia. State appropriations for UVa have declined sharply between 2002 and 2022 when adjusted for inflation and enrollment. But tuition has exploded over the same time. Only one third of the increased tuition revenue was needed to offset state cuts. The other two-thirds represented spending increases, primarily in payroll.

Those are the major conclusions of a report, “Rising Costs: The Driving Force Behind Tuition Increases at UVa,” released today by The Jefferson Council, an organization dedicated to upholding free speech, viewpoint diversity, and Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at UVa.

The UVa Board of Visitors is working this fall on how much to increase tuition in the next two academic years. The Finance Committee has scheduled a public hearing November 17 in which students and other members of the public can address undergraduate tuition & fees. The Board is expected to approve a new tuition structure in December. Continue reading

The Incomplete Case for Higher Tuition at UVa

by James A. Bacon

As the Board of Visitors ponders how much to raise tuition & fees in the next two academic years, the University of Virginia is grappling with strong inflationary pressures and a long-term shortfall in state aid, senior university administrators said Wednesday.

Even so, administrators told the Board’s Finance Committee, UVa offers a great “value proposition” compared to other Top 50 universities. Its in-state tuition is lower than that of top private universities, and its four-year graduation rate is the highest of any public university in the country.

The Finance Committee meeting yesterday marked the beginning of a two-month decision-making process. The purpose of the initial meeting, said Committee Chair Robert M. Blue, was to provide “context” for the discussion. A November hearing will allow students and others to express their views about college costs. The Board is scheduled to adopt a new tuition structure in December. 

Although university officials did not say explicitly that a tuition increase is justified, the “context” presented was geared to supporting such a conclusion. Board members offered no pushback during the one-and-a-half-hour session, asking only a few questions for purposes of clarification. They did not drill into the data proffered by administrators, nor, despite assurances that UVa was working assiduously to achieve efficiencies and reduce redundancies, did they ask for specifics. No one addressed faculty productivity, administrative overhead, or other drivers of university costs. Continue reading

How Does UVa In-State Tuition Compare to Other Top 50 Universities?

UVa is the bold orange line at the far right. To view a more legible image of this graph, click here and scroll to page 31 of the pdf.

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors sets tuition & fees every other year. This is one of those years. In December the Board is scheduled to announce tuition and fees for the following two academic years. The decision-making process is sure to be controversial, as a number of Youngkin appointees on the board are fiscal hawks who hope to keep costs down and tuition hikes low.

The Ryan administration fired an opening salvo by distributing the graph above, which shows UVa in a highly flattering light. If you are a Virginia resident and wish to attend one of the Top 50 universities in the country (as rated by USNWR, or U.S. News & World Report), UVa charges the lowest tuition and fees. The graph is hard to read, but UVa is represented by the bold orange line at the far right, so you can see that it is the lowest by a wide margin.

Presentation of the graph prompted the most animated discussion by Board members so far in the September meeting. Continue reading

Faculty Bloat at UVa

Data source: office of Institutional Research & Analytics
by James A. Bacon

A key cost driver at the University of Virginia is the increasing size and declining teaching productivity of its faculty. The topic appears to be taboo.

The Board of Visitors hasn’t discussed it, and there is no indication from publicly available sources that the university administration has engaged in any introspection. The slender evidence available to the UVa community is found on the website of UVa’s office of Institutional Research & Analytics (IR&A), a 17-person office deep within the bowels of the university. While that office does publish limited data online, it has not released any reports of an analytical nature.

Employee salaries, wages and benefits comprise roughly half of the university’s cost structure. While a 25.4% surge in salaried staff accounts for much of the growth in UV’s cost structure between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022 (see our article, “Hard Numbers on Administrative Bloat“), a 9.5% increase in “faculty” was a significant contributor as well. If we count teaching faculty only (tenure-track professors, lecturers and instructors) and exclude departmental-level administrators, whose numbers have been slashed, the “faculty” headcount bounded ahead by 25.7%.

By contrast, annualized FTE enrollment rose 8.8%. Continue reading