The following is an article published in the Richmond Times Dispatch regarding my and other General Assembly Members’ work to increase the number of spots in our state schools for our Virginia students. This article provides a good example of why I have been so mad about the College of William and Mary not spending their money on increasing the number of new in-state slots.
Richmond Times Dispatch
Virginia lawmakers added more than $300 million to higher-ed funding this year with the expectation that the state’s colleges and universities would limit tuition hikes to 3 percent. Most did. Two (VMI and Richard Bland) raised tuition by slightly more. Then there’s William & Mary, which will jack up tuition and fees by 12 percent. That’s a slap in the face to state lawmakers and a kick in the teeth to Virginia families.
The school hastens to point out that the tuition hikes will apply only to future classes. The “William & Mary Promise” guarantees that students will pay one rate throughout their undergraduate education, and that is commendable. So is the school’s extensive system of financial aid, which helps ease the sticker shock for families of modest means. But neither of those palliatives is a good substitute for lower tuition across the board.
Granted, it’s worth noting that state support for higher education plunged after the Great Recession and still has not fully recovered. Jim Bacon, the former editor of Virginia Business who blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion, estimates that W&M has lost out on $20 million over the past 16 years. Fair point. On the other hand, $1 million and change per year is not a huge hit for a school whose budget is now north of $190 million.
Virginia residents also ought to keep in mind the different trajectories of state support and the price of admission. While state support has slipped slightly, tuition and fees have skyrocketed. Consider:
For 1999-2000, tuition and mandatory fees at William & Mary totaled $2,352 . If you adjust for inflation, that would be $3,268 today. Yet this year, W&M’s tuition and mandatory fees total $19,372 – a nearly 500 percent increase. There are words to describe that kind of highway robbery, but none of them can be printed in a family newspaper.
Members of the House of Delegates such as Chris Jones, chairman of the Finance Committee, are livid. They should be. But state Sen. Tommy Norment has rushed to the school’s defense, objecting to “bullying” by the House over “some artificial cap.” W&M lies within Norment’s district, so it’s natural that he would stick up for it. He might even feel duty-bound to. Virginians, however, should not mistake his vigorous constituent representation for a legitimate policy stance. It’s nothing but politics, pure and simple.
While W&M – the initials could stand for “Woeful & Miserable tuition hikes” – might be an outlier this year, it has plenty of company. Figures from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia show that collectively, average tuition and fees for the commonwealth’s four-year institutions have shot up from $2,191 in 2000 ($3,044 in today’s dollars) to $11,592 this year. That’s a nearly three-fold increase.
The reasons for this are many, and have been explored at length elsewhere: Lavish dining halls with sushi bars, gymnasiums with climbing walls and other luxurious amenities schools use to entice applicants. Exorbitant coaching salaries. Empire-building presidents. Course catalogs stuffed with classes that are either frivolous or soaked in the trendy leftist identity politics with which so much of higher education is obsessed.
William & Mary is better than many schools in that last regard. Even so, a casual flip through the course catalog finds plenty of candidates for pruning, from judo and ballroom dance to Dis/Ability Studies (students will “study how the social constructions, symbols, and stigmas associated with dis/ability identity are related to larger systems of power that oppress and exclude”); Gender and Postcoloniality (“provides critical analysis of European employment of enlightenment thought and emerging ideas on race to justify colonial expansion and oppression”); Topics in Gender and Sexuality; Literature and the Formation of Homosexuality; Wealth, Inequality, and Power; Feminist Theory and Contemporary Theatre; Sex & Race in Plays & Films: Dramatizing Diversity; and so on.
Virginia parents with students at W&M would be wise to scrutinize more than just their bills.