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By Wes Hester December 2, 2010

Bob McDonnell says Virginia college tuitions have doubled in 10 years

In a recent "Ask the Governor" session on WTOP radio, host Mark Segraves told Gov. Bob McDonnell that a Virginia Tech student had called to complain about the rising cost of tuition.

"And he should," McDonnell responded. "I have a daughter at Virginia Tech and two (sons) at U.Va. right now and I’m saying I understand his pain. The tuitions in Virginia colleges, Mark, have doubled -- 100 percent -- in the last 10 years. It’s unacceptable."

We won’t challenge the governor on where his children are enrolled, but we did wonder whether tuition at all state schools had doubled.

McDonnell Press Secretary Stacey Johnson supported the claim with a July State Council of Higher Education for Virginia report. She pointed to a chart showing the average full-time in-state undergraduate tuition with mandatory teaching-related fees has risen from $2,192 in 2000-01 to $5,670 for 2010-11 -- significantly more than double.

But we wondered if each public college and university had doubled its tuition over the decade.

So, we turn back to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s report, which clearly shows that tuition and fees are on the rise.  

For 2010-11, all of the state’s 16 public schools show undergraduate tuition and mandatory teaching-related fees increasing by at least 5 percent from the previous year. Half of those increases are in the double digits, with Virginia Commonwealth University at the top of the list with a 23.9 percent hike from 2009-10. Old Dominion University had the smallest increase at 5.3 percent.  

Now, we need to see how things looked a decade ago.

According to a 2000-01 State Council of Higher Education report, McDonnell’s claim still holds up if we look at all the state’s public four-year institutions.  

Only Richard Bland College -- a two-year junior college -- has not doubled its tuition, and even that school is only $256 shy of the mark.

The only way McDonnell’s claim runs into trouble is if we look at tuition and all mandatory fees -- for non-instructional uses such as athletics and capital debt service. Even then, only two schools -- James Madison University and Old Dominion University -- have yet to double the 2000-01 figures, and both are short by less than $200.

In case you’re curious, the average tuition including all mandatory fees and room and board for four-year state schools has risen from $8,813 in 2000-01 to $16,833 this year -- nearly double.  

Also of note: Tuition spiked sharply in fiscal 2002 after a tuition freeze instituted in fiscal 1997 was lifted. A mandatory tuition reduction was also implemented in fiscal 2000.   

"The freeze was lifted in Fiscal Year ‘02 because of budget cuts to higher education. That's when tuition and E&G  (instructional) fees shot up by an average of 21.5 percent across the public institutions," said Kirsten Nelson with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

More recent spikes were also caused by budget cuts.

"The reasons they have gone up fairly substantially in the past couple years is because they’ve suffered budget cuts from the General Assembly," Nelson said. "One of the reasons that higher education gets cut is because the institutions have an alternate source of income, which is tuition."

Nelson said things could have been worse were it not for the almost $275 million state colleges and universities received from the 2009 Stimulus Act.

Now, let’s review:

McDonnell’s claim that Virginia tuition has doubled in the last 10 years is 100 percent true using the average. If we look individually at each of the state’s four-year schools, it’s still true.

Only if we include Richard Bland, the state’s only two-year junior college, is it not entirely true to say that all state colleges and universities have doubled tuition, but even then it’s off just a tad.

So we find the claim to be True.    

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Our Sources

WTOP, Ask the Governor, Nov. 30, 2010

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, 2010-11 Tuitions and Fees at Virginia’s State-Supported Colleges and Universities, July 2010

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Tuition and Fee Report, June 20, 2000

Email interview with Kirsten Nelson, Director of Communications and Government Relations, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Nov. 30, 2010

Email interview with Stacey Johnson, press secretary for Gov. Bob McDonnell, Nov. 30, 2010 

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Bob McDonnell says Virginia college tuitions have doubled in 10 years

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