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March 19, 2013

Virginia’s Real Tuition Monster

Education can be expensive in the best of times, no question. But a new national report out today shows just how much rising tuition costs are driven by state cuts to higher education funding. And the findings for Virginia are troubling.

State spending per student in Virginia fell by 27.8% in real dollars – or $2,026 per student – from fiscal years 2008 to 2013. That puts Virginia right in the middle of the pack nationally, according to the report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).  

Meanwhile, average tuition at Virginia’s four-year colleges increased by 28.5%, or $2,199, over the same period – almost a mirror image. That puts us among the worst third of states in the nation for that disturbing trend.


Moreover, tuition hikes have not been shared equally among Virginia’s public institutions. Old Dominion University students saw their tuition rise 16.4% from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2012-2013 school year, while Virginia Commonwealth University students experienced a whopping 49.2% increase.

The report’s larger point is that continued cuts to higher education will make college even more unaffordable for more students and harm the economy in the long run. As costs to families rise, fewer students attend college, and those who do have a harder time reaching graduation. This is particularly worrisome because employers increasingly require college-educated workers for even entry-level positions.  If Virginia isn’t producing the highly-skilled workforce that employers need, our state economy will suffer.

In addition, the report shows that the college affordability crisis contributes to our wide and growing income gap between households.  That’s because lower-income – but equally qualified – students are more likely to be discouraged from attending college due to the cost than upper income students.
While these deep cuts have been partly a response to the Great Recession, they also are the result of a refusal by many state policymakers to raise meaningful revenue to help the states continue to meet the funding needs of their colleges and universities. Consequently, public colleges and universities nationwide have been forced to raise tuition while simultaneously cutting instructional and support staff to make up the difference. In other words, students are paying substantially more but getting less.

As Virginia continues to recover from the recession, policymakers should reinvest in its higher education system to once again make college affordable, equitable, and available to more of its students. That’s the real tuition monster we need to tame.


The Commonwealth Institute

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