The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission on June 25 voted to approve tuition and fee increases at some West Virginia schools.
West Virginia Code requires schools seeking tuition and fee increases in excess of 5 percent to seek HEPC approval. Nine schools — Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Shepherd University, West Virginia University, West Liberty University, West Virginia State University and West Virginia University-Potomac State College—all requested tuition and fee increases of more than 5 percent. Marshall University plans to increase its tuition and fees by 4.8 percent.
The increases mean the average tuition and fees a student pays per semester will jump from $5,687 to $6,067. HEPC commissioners and staff said that while tuition and fee increases are generally voted down, the schools made "a compelling argument" and showed the HEPC how the increases can help the schools in light of 7.5 percent budget cuts mandated by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
"The presentations were very thoughtful," said Kathy Eddy, secretary of HEPC. "They were not boilerplate presentations. They brought to us the areas they intended to cut. They also in a fair number of instances talked to us about their strategic plan and the importance of these tuition increases relative to their strategic plan."
David Hendrickson, chairman of HEPC, said he "hates tuition and fee increases" but understands why the schools have asked for them.
"I grew up as a first-generation college student, and it's very difficult for people in the state of West Virginia to find the money to send their kids to school," he said. "But it's also very difficult to balance the budget of the institutions when we're facing tough economic times in West Virginia."
He said the state does a "wonderful job" of trying to make things better for everyone across the board, but the reality is budgeting is difficult for these schools without the increase.
"Everyone took a hard line on trying to keep it down as low as possible," Hendrickson said. "But let me tell you what, there's not any fluff in any of these budgets. It's really tight across the campuses."
Two members of the board — Kay Goodwin, cabinet secretary for education and the arts, and Jim Phares, superintendent of schools — voted against the increase. Goodwin said she was worried about how the increases would hurt students down the line when they're repaying student loan debt.
"I'm sure the institutions were very diligent in the presentation of their information. But I'm not so worried about them as I am the students and their families and their loans," Goodwin said. "I think in the very near future, we're going to see some of those very institutions failing because of their student loan default rate. I think we only add to the problem when we increase tuition, so I will be voting no."
Eddy supported the increase, but said increasing tuition and fees is a hard pill to swallow.
"It is not comfortable in the state of West Virginia to have tuition increases," she said. "But it was well documented. … I thought it was a worthwhile exercise, and I think they need it."