Tuition increases, professor salaries stay frozen

Graphic courtesy of MCT

While state funding for higher education remains slim, instructors’ and professors’ salaries are still frozen, and the cost of Virginia colleges continues to fall on the backs of students and their families. However, a recent study shows Virginia college administrators are left unaffected.

A report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) published in January exposed that growing administrative expenditures have absorbed much of the increases in college tuition and fees in Virginia.

“A growing share of school funds is going to pay for layers and layers of administration,” the report said, citing that with the increase in college costs students nationwide pay 60 percent more for administrative expenses but only 30 percent more for instructions. Virginia is not immune to this trend, as its institutions are shown in the report to have a vast inequality in the growth of its expenditures as well.

The report showed that from the 2002-03 to 2008-09 academic years, all but one public university of the 15 studied in Virginia covered in the report increased their administrative spending. The other 14 increased their administrative spending by an average of 65 percent.

The largest administrative budget growths were seen at Longwood University and James Madison University, where administrative expense more than doubled.

Christopher Newport University administration expenditures are shown in the report to have a 78 percent increase over the six-year period while instruction expenses saw only a 48 percent change. Over the years, CNU’s budget has grown tremendously, and administrative spending as a percentage of Educational & General expenditures remained at 10.9 percent. This number is disproportionate to the percentage of the E&G expenditures budgeted for instruction, which dropped from 56 to 46.7 percent.

While Virginia college administration expanded during the six-year period ending in 2008-09, public institutions sustained large state support reductions as a result of state budget shortfalls.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) indicated in a July 2011 Tuition and Fees report that overall state funding for public higher education has seen five consecutive years of general fund reductions, and the cost of attending college for in-state students in Virginia is about 30 percent below the 2001 level when adjusted for inflation. Despite the General Assembly allocating $97 million for the 2012 year, state appropriations are still lower than they were in 2006 before the recession.

However, CNU administration responded with criticism about the report’s lack of depth.

“The (ACTA) report relies on arithmetic calculations without providing context for the results, e.g. percentages increases on vastly different base numbers,” said CNU’s Chief of Staff Cynthia Perry in an email statement. “Although some reference is made to enrollment growth, the report fails to delve into the effect of that growth on administrative and other services. The report fails to mention external influences on non-instructional costs resulting from federal and state mandates.”

Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency

The results of the ACTA study led the Beazley Foundation, based in Portsmouth, to suspend all grant funding to Christopher Newport and all other Virginia institutions. The Beazley Foundation gives an annual $10,000 scholarship endowment. Last year they granted CNU $50,000 for the university chapel.

Judge Richard S. Bray, chairman and CEO of the foundation told the Daily Press, “The data contained in this report show that we are, in fact, supporting rising costs, more administrators and a diffuse and incoherent curriculum.”

“We commissioned the report to give us a little bit of guidance and enlightenment,” Judge Bray said in a phone interview. “What we were trying to do is get objective information. We intended it to be constructive.”

Bray wanted to make it clear that although CNU is listed in the report as appearing to be one of the biggest spendthrifts, the school is not his biggest concern.
“If you look at just the data in the report, that would be unfair,” said Bray. “We are going to have to look at it in the context of the particular school.”

According to Bray, the report’s first drafts actually gave each institution a grade on efficiency and core curriculum, but were omitted from the final. Bray said the decision to omit the grades was to not hinder the missions of the universities, though Bray said he remembers CNU receiving a ‘B’ in the first drafts of the report.
“When you look at CNU, it has had very solid growth,” said Bray. “I would expect CNU would not be denied any future grants.”

Kirsten Nelson, director of communications and government relations at SCHEV, said that the state council was aware of the ACTA report.

“Of course there are efficacies that could be made,” said Nelson in a phone interview, but she reiterated that SCHEV respects Virginia code and that “in the state of Virginia, spending is left up to the individual purview of the institution.”

Nelson cited that SCHEV supports Governor McDonnell’s bill, which she said “calls for looking at efficacies,” as well as increased state funding, “although we feel that there are other reasons that tuition has risen.”

The report has come out at a time when nationally the cost for attending college has risen to extraordinary levels, and in an election year, during which a flurry of nationwide debate is underway about how to solve the problem of rising costs of higher education.

Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University and author of “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,” and Mathew Denhart, administrative director at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, wrote in an OpEd together for CNN about the reasons for the rising costs. They cite the problem as systemic and criticize university administrators for their exuberate spending and paternalism.

“Whereas private businesses cut prices for consumers and costs to themselves through efficiencies that increase profits and incomes, universities lack those incentives,” wrote Vedder and Denhart. They continued, saying that university administrators “effectively bribe powerful faculty with low teaching loads, high salaries and good parking. They give the alumni successful intercollegiate athletic programs that are expensive and usually financed off the backs of students. They give trustees whatever they want, no matter how costly or eccentric.”

More increases may come

Nonetheless, students and their families have bore the brunt in this trend, risking the affordability and accessibility of Virginia’s nationally-acclaimed system of public higher education.

According to the SCHEV report, college affordability in Virginia is estimated this year to continue to surpass the least affordable record of 41.9 percent of per capita disposable income, climbing to 43.7 percent, which is a remarkable difference from 2002, when the average total cost for in-state students living on campus was 32.2 percent of per capita disposable income.

CNU has increased its tuition by 50 percent since the 2004-05 academic year the ACTA report shows—the highest percent change among all Virginia schools. Some cite that the numerous building projects and the increase in selectivity in student admission have added more value to a degree from CNU.

“We are getting better facilities and better technology,” said senior Rebecca Brown. “I’d say that helps increase the value.”

Still many others feel that the value of a degree from CNU has not grown comparable to a rise in cost over the past six years, despite new facilities.

“It feels like the value is the same,” said sophomore Nickolas Henderson, “no matter how high the tuition is.”

“With all the construction, I feel that we are paying more for the construction than our education,” said junior Brian McNure.

Although, the funding for construction of new facilities has largely come from federal and state grants and the CNU Real Estate Foundation, the university does have to pay to maintain those buildings out of the general budget.

In addition, CNU tuition for in-state students could again rise drastically in the 2012-13 academic year, to a little more than $7,200 per semester, a 22 percent increase from the 2011-12 year, as anticipated in the administration’s six-year plan. This plan is a state-mandated benchmark document which reports on how the university plans on allocating funds, assuming no state budget increases, in order to maintain its operations.

However, the estimated rise in tuition would also pay for an increase in financial aid for low and middle-income families struggling to keep up with the constant rise in tuition costs. Total tuition revenue to be committed to financial aid would nearly double from $485 thousand to $850 thousand for 2012-13.

The planned tuition hike is likely intended to help fill a large gap left by years of continuous general fund reductions and the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, a federal economic stimulus package in which CNU was allotted $3.5 million in 2010-11 to help “off-set state general fund budget reductions and mitigate the need to increase tuition for in-state students,” as cited in the SCHEV report.

The ARRA was successful in softening the blow of tuition increases. The average increase for in-state undergraduate tuition and fees was 9.9 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12, compared to the cost of college increasing 22 percent in 2003 when the state was battling similar short falls. Total tuition and fees for in-state CNU students rose 7.5 percent for the 2010-11 academic year.

However, more state funding may soon come.

Governor McDonnell is proposing a budget that would increase funding for public higher education by $200 million over the next two years, but the budget has yet to be approved and not all of the new funding would go to alleviating tuition increases.

Junior Spencer Stanfield, head of the CNU chapter of Virginia21, an organization that has recently been lobbying for higher education funding in Richmond on behalf of Virginia college students, was in the room when the governor announced the budget proposal. He says that the governor’s proposed budget is a big success for college students in Virginia.

“We got around 300 signatures from CNU, and we and other campus leaders lobbied legislators in Richmond,” Stanfield said. “We highlighted the students’ crisis and they listened and increased the funding, but it’s not a done deal.”

Stanfield also said that tuition increases might be the new norm.

“It is unavoidable,” Stanfield said. “I have a negative outlook because that’s how it’s been historically; being realistic, you are going to see an overall increase. They have at least increased funding and we hope that will be effective.”

Professors left without reward

Professors are also suffering from a statewide freeze on state employee salaries, which has left CNU professors absent of any merit pay within the past five years, according to the Faculty Senate minutes for Oct. 21, 2011.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on its website that since the 2007-08 academic year, the average annual salaries for CNU professors, associate professors and assistant professors have been slowly decreasing.

“Nobody is really happy,” said Dr. Scott Pollard, professor of English and the Faculty Senate president. “It is a state issue dealing with the economy, which has been slow to pick up. The worry is that it could be permanent.”

Dr. Pollard is worried that, without competitive salaries, the school’s quality of education may be at stake.

“The issue is with competitiveness and we need that up again,” said Pollard. “We are not even near 60th percentile and that gives us a problem for competitiveness—whether we can attract people, keep people and whether they can get better job offers elsewhere.”

Pollard may soon get his wish. Faculty may actually see an across-the-board rise in compensation next year. A provision in the six-year plan details a rise in faculty salaries by 4.4 percent for both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years, with the goal of putting CNU in the 60th percentile for faculty compensation among it’s peer institutions. However, this initiative will also be paid for in large parts by the additional revenues brought in by the increase in tuition.

“We are beginning to move back to 2007, which was the last time we got anything,” said Pollard regarding the governor’s proposed budget. “I was talking with (President) Trible and he was upbeat about the future. He sees more of a possibility for state salaries to rise. It is a baby step and he sees it as hope.”