It’s your first semester of college and it feels as if you’ve been waiting on this for years. You had a part-time job through high school and managed to save some money but still can’t pay for tuition, books and a meal plan without a little financial aid. Telling yourself that the loan will be paid off once you get a job, you decide not to worry about it. Then, you find out that the tuition for the next school year has increased several hundred dollars. How in the world can you afford this?
There are many students at Shepherd University who are feeling the effects of the increase in tuition, and many wonder when or if they will ever stop.
In the past ten years, in-state tuition at Shepherd has gone from $2,866 in 2003 to $6,256 in 2013. A similar increase occurred when the tuition for out-of-state students in 2003 amounted to $6,982 but now costs $15,850. This rise in tuition costs for both categories over a ten-year span is about a 60 percent raise. As for the tuition price rise that was put into place just last year, Debra Judd, vice president for administration and finance, said that for the “FY14 [fiscal year 2014], the proposed tuition increase was planned to generate about $1 million in revenue which almost completely offset the state funding cuts.”
The Picket conducted an interview with President Suzanne Shipley about the process of rising tuition, state funding cuts, Shepherd’s budget and future tuition plans.
Shipley first explained the process of making a budget for a fiscal year. Shepherd is currently in the middle of an active fiscal year, which means that in November, a budget process is started with a group of faculty, staff and students to talk about next year’s budget. It was the decisions made last spring that determined this year’s fiscal agenda. The students who are involved in the budget process are part of a shared decision and can impact the budget by providing feedback. The process that started this November will decide next year’s fiscal budget. Students are included, says Shipley, because “that process finalizes in a presentation to students that include what initiatives we want to take and what that means for tuition.”
The Student Government Association (SGA) also gets a presentation, which they talk about for a week before delivering a response. The response from the SGA is then taken into consideration, but does not determine tuition.
Last year, the state funding to Shepherd was cut about $1 million, which had to be replaced with an increase in tuition. Something that Shepherd students may not know is that it takes an average of $10,000 to educate one student per year. This means that an in-state undergraduate student is not paying the full amount of the cost that it takes to educate them, and the tuition from out-of-state students is helping to make up for that lost money. Shipley said that Shepherd has a budget of $56 million and $11 million comes from the state. That means that only 18 percent of Shepherd operations are paid for by the state. The other 82 percent of the Shepherd budget is made up of tuition and auxiliaries (i.e. bookstore, residence halls, dining). When state funding drops, the university has to come up with funds from the 82 percent, and tuition is often what impacts students the most.
Many students at Shepherd are well aware of rising tuition prices and have a lot to say about the issue.
Of the students surveyed, expected debt accumulation ranged from under $10,000 to over $50,000. Opinions on the subject of rising tuition were very diverse as well.
Bonnie Abbott, a music and pre-k to adult education major, said of the rising costs, “It’s necessary. Prices are rising everywhere. This is a national problem, not unique to Shepherd’s campus.” She went on to say that while the tuition rising is necessary, she would still like to see the money spent on more experienced professors rather than extra buildings, such as the second art center.
Jacob Mellow, an art education major, said that even though he works two jobs while attending college, “My earnings go mostly to supplies for my major. Very little (less than 10 percent) of my tuition is covered by my own money.” Mellow said that the remainder of his tuition is paid out-of-pocket by family support.
Tuition costs at Shepherd for both in- and out-of-state students have risen approximately 60 percent in the past ten years, but statistics show that high tuition is not a problem unique to Shepherd University. The national average cost per year for an in-state student at a four-year institution is $8,655 and for an out-of-state student, tuition jumps to $21,706, according to collegeboard.org. In this regard, Shepherd is still under the national average when it comes to rising tuition.
Regardless of the way that Shepherd compares to the national tuition average, students are still having difficulties paying for their college education.
Samantha Holiskey, an English major, said that it is “nearly impossible” to pay for her education. She has one scholarship, but the rest is paid out-of-pocket by family contributions.
One of the biggest resources for West Virginia students is the PROMISE Scholarship. To be eligible, you have to be a West Virginia resident with a high school overall GPA of 3.0. You also have to meet standardized test score criteria which is, according to cfwv.com: “ACT score requirement: 22 composite score with a minimum of 20 in English, mathematics, science and reading. SAT score requirement: 1020 combined score with minimum of 480 in mathematics and 490 in critical reading.” While the PROMISE Scholarship is an excellent program, it only provides $4,750 to the recipient annually, which may not cover the full price of tuition.
Nicky Barnes, a psychology major, said that while the loans were easy to accept, they are daunting to pay back. She finds it frustrating that she does not necessarily have a say in where her tuition is spent, exclaiming, “I want a parking garage!”
Shipley does not deny the fact that rising tuition may have Shepherd students struggling to keep up with payments. When asked if she thought Shepherd students might struggle to pay more for tuition, she replied, “Yes, I do.” She said that the difference between the cost of university tuition and fees and what students are able to afford is known as a “gap.” This gap is either paid for by state, federal or private funds provided by the college, or loans and out-of-pocket funds from the student. Shipley said that the average national gap is around $27,000 for a bachelor’s degree, but students in West Virginia usually come out at a little below average costs.
When asked where she sees tuition in five years, Shipley responded, “It is my hope that we don’t see larger than an average [overall] 3–5 percent increase.” She said that it would be wonderful if we saw the tuition price nationwide level out, but that cannot happen with the state support continuing to shrink.
In the end, you can only hope to graduate with less than $20,000 in debt or get a job that pays enough to cover the gap.