Local: Education

Gov. Bob McDonnell asks Virginia universities to keep tuition hikes low

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Local,Virginia,Education,April Burbank

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has asked the state's public colleges and universities to keep their tuition increases as low as possible for the upcoming academic year.

In a letter dated April 4, McDonnell said he was "concerned" about the cost of higher education and asked state-supported colleges to keep tuition increases in step with the consumer price index, an indicator of inflation, in return for additional funding.

"After a decade plus of nearly double-digit tuition increases and mounting student loan debt, the cost of higher education is on the minds of parents, students and policymakers," he wrote in the letter, which was released Thursday.

McDonnell had strongly criticized Virginia's tuition increases several years ago, including a 24 percent tuition increase at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010. In response, he withheld half of the university's state-allocated funding. VCU's tuition increase was just 3.9 percent last year.

In this year's budget update, the governor added $47 million to higher education, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health care programs. That was in addition to the $100 million allocated every year for higher education in his budget for 2013-2015.

"Both the General Assembly and I made these significant budget investments with the understanding that your institutions will continue to temper in-state tuition and fee increases for the upcoming year," McDonnell wrote.

The governor made similar requests in April 2012 and later celebrated that the average tuition increase among Virginia's colleges and universities was 4.1 percent, the smallest hike in a decade.

"The governor does not believe that we're done yet," said McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell. "College is still very difficult to afford for most Virginians."

The University of Virginia's Board of Visitors approved a 3.8 percent tuition increase for in-state students at a meeting on Thursday.

Other schools have yet to set their tuition for the 2013-2014 academic year. The board of the University of Mary Washington is expected to vote on tuition Friday, according to spokeswoman Marty Morrison. And the Board of Visitors at Virginia Commonwealth University, which has been considering a plan that would charge students per credit hour, is scheduled to decide its final tuition plan at a May 10 meeting.

Caldwell said limiting tuition increases required a partnership between the government and the universities, who share concerns over college affordability.

"It's not something that the colleges and universities are blind to themselves," Caldwell said.

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