- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

RICHMOND Public colleges and universities in Virginia will be required to turn over to the state all funds they garner from increasing tuition fees, instead of using it to replace money lost in budget cuts.

Virginia, which faces a $3.5 billion shortfall over the next three years, "will take the dollars we raise from tuition and have it go to the general fund," said George Mason University President Alan Merten.

The bottom line, Mr. Merten and other college officials have said, is that the schools themselves will not see any financial benefit from raising tuition.

In addition to $104 million slashed from higher education in the 2003-2004 budget, an additional 7 percent in cuts will be made in 2003 and 8 percent in 2004, under Gov. Mark R. Warner's proposed amendments to the $51 billion two-year budget of Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, also capped at 5 percent the amount the state schools could raise tuition for in-state undergraduate students. There is no cap on tuition rates for graduate or out-of-state students.

"It is true that the colleges and universities are being asked to give back more money than the other state agencies," Secretary of Education Belle S. Wheelan said. "They don't get to keep the 5 percent. They do have to give it back."

That means that even if state colleges and universities raise tuition to the maximum 5 percent for the undergraduate and nonexempt tuition levels, they will come out on the losing end. The schools still would have to make additional cuts of 7 percent and 8 percent over 2003-2004, just as other state agencies would be required to do.

Deputy Education Secretary Peter Blake explained that the 5 percent tuition increase only offsets the additional cuts Mr. Warner is proposing for higher education.

Mr. Warner's additional cuts to state college and university spending actually are $28 million lower than those made by Mr. Gilmore, a Republican had suggested.

However, Mr. Blake said it is up to the colleges and universities whether to raise their tuition to help make up the loss in additional budget trimmings.

If they do not raise tuition, the schools would have to make even greater budget cuts than what are being proposed.

"It will put them back to having a 7 and 8 percent reduction," Mr. Blake said. "They get back to where they were before they wrote their check to Richmond."

Secretary of Finance John M. Bennett said no one should think the money resulting from a 5 percent tuition increase, should it be chosen by colleges and universities, goes dollar for dollar into the general fund.

But Mr. Bennett did acknowledge that money raised through a tuition increase would not stay at the school.

"If they elect to take that option they are plugging some of that hole" in the schools' own budgets, Mr. Bennett said.

The practical effect of all of this, Mr. Merten and other higher education officials said, is that the tuition increases are being used as a "tax" on students to plug the budget hole.

"To be honest, this was something the Gilmore budget did an attempt to use the universities to raise money," Mr. Merten said. "The Warner budget just modifies it."

John Broderick, vice president for institutional advancement at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, said raising tuition, then having to use it to plug the state's budget gap, amounts to simply collecting money for the state and not the individual institution.

Mr. Broderick said that because many of Old Dominion's 18,000 students are considered nontraditional, take fewer classes and typically are working while attending, any tuition increase is painful to their pocketbooks.

"For us to raise tuition by 5 percent is going to be difficult on our students," Mr. Broderick said, and the school's revenue could be curtailed as well because students might take fewer classes as a result of any increase.

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