- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner has lifted a six-year freeze on tuition rates at state colleges and universities, requiring many students to pay hundreds of dollars more for a college education next year.
The tuition increases reverse the trend set by Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican who froze tuition rates in the mid-1990s and then directed colleges and universities to scale back tuition by 20 percent in 1999.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, lifted the freeze to allow colleges to recover funding lost as the state tries to shore up a $3.8 billion budget deficit.
George Mason University has increased tuition for in-state undergraduates by 16 percent for the 2002-03 school year to offset a $15 million cut in state funding.
The University of Virginia, James Madison University and Virginia Tech recently announced 9 percent increases. This week, Christopher Newport University in Newport News announced a 14 percent increase in tuition rates.
Almost every university in the state has announced some increase in tuition.
Lawmakers say the 2002-04 budget deficit necessitated cuts in higher education spending.
"The economy's a stinker. The whole bubble has burst," said Delegate Dave Albo, Fairfax Republican. He said the state just does not have enough money to keep tuition rates frozen at levels maintained during the Gilmore administration.
Education observers said they fear this is just the beginning.
"What we are really concerned about is if this becomes a pattern over the next several years. If the state does not provide support, the only other place universities can get money from is the students," said Don Finley, executive director of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, a Richmond-based group of business leaders and top college administrators.
Mr. Finley said he is not confident that when the economy recovers there will be enough state revenue to scale back funding cuts for universities. He said universities would recover little more than half of that lost revenue through increased tuition and fees, and would be forced to cut services.
"They will have less to spend on technology and faculty. Already around the state we are seeing some very good faculty members leaving," Mr. Finley said.
This week, Virginia Tech announced that it was cutting more than 200 jobs as a result of the spending cuts, even after it increased tuition by 9 percent for the upcoming school year.
Administrators said whether tuition will increase every year to keep up with services is not clear. "The Board of Visitors will look at the situation every year, but it is hard to predict what will happen," said Louise Dudley, spokeswoman for the University of Virginia.
The university raised tuition by 9 percent after losing $25 million in state funding. Next year, it anticipates losing $33 million, she said.
Universities such as George Mason have announced even higher increases in tuition. As a result of the university's 16 percent increase, in-state students will now pay $624 more from $3,792 to $4,416 while out-of-state students will pay $1,020 more from $12,696 to $13,716.
University President Alan G. Merten said it was already short $20 million last year. To add to this, he said, "We are receiving $15 million less from the state next year. We would have had to make dramatic staff and faculty cuts to meet the shortfall."
Observers said increasing tuition rates will have both short-term and long-term fallout. "The key to a growing state and moving forward is higher education," Mr. Finley said, adding that fewer students would be able to afford college education as a result of the tuition increases.
Most universities said they have raised the amount of need-based financial aid to fight the effect on poorer students. "The response [to the increases] has been remarkable. Everyone, including the students, is congratulating us," Mr. Merten said, adding that rates at the university are still lower than they were nine years ago.
Another option for parents is to use trust funds, such as the Virginia College Savings Plan. Parents can invest in the trust that locks in tuition rates for students in ninth grade and below. If the child later attends any public university in the state, the trust pays all tuition and mandatory fees.
Virginia Tech student Brian Montgomery said he understands the need for the increases in tuition. "When the state announced budget cuts, we all knew it was coming. The increase in tuition was a necessary step," he said, adding that what students did not want was cuts in services.

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