Part of VCU’s response to declining state funding was implementing a new per-credit-hour tuition structure that will have been in effect for an entire academic year this May.
At the end of 2013 the Board of Visitors decided to switch the university’s tuition model from a flat rate paid by all students to a per-credit structure based on the number of credits students are enrolled in. The new model subsequently brought in more revenue for the university.
In the fiscal year prior to the implementation of the new tuition structure VCU brought in $318.6 million in tuition and fees. This year, the first fiscal year with the new system, the school totaled $340.4 million in tuition and fees. $4 million of that increase is due to the new structure.
“At the end of the day we were looking for something that would improve VCU’s revenues,” said Pam Currey, the associate vice president of finance and administration at VCU.
William Bosher, the executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute, said that a per-credit hour structure makes sense on a basic level because you pay more if you use more and pay less if you use less.
“The problem is balancing the university’s need for revenue against those who are paying,” Bosher said.
He added that if credits are priced separately rather than in a flat rate they are going to cost more.
Currey said the only students currently paying with this new model are this year’s freshmen and any transfers since last May.
When deciding how to restructure the tuition VCU looked at several options including models utilized by other state schools.
William and Mary has guaranteed tuition for all four years, but Currey said this was vetoed because VCU has a lot of students who take time off from school.
There was also the option of having juniors and senior pay more, which is structure used by the University of Virginia because “higher level courses are small and cost more because the faculty to student ration is smaller,” Currey said.
Implementation of tuition differentials, or additional fees, such as the ones paid by art and engineering students, was also considered. However, student surveys concluded VCU students were the most receptive of the per-credit-hour tuition structure.
“You’re paying for what you’re using. On the block structure if you were taking 12 credits then you were paying the same as someone who was taking 18 credits,” Currey said.
Many students on campus see it as a logical change.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Logan Mills, a junior nursing major. “There have been semesters where I have taken only 13 credits and then semesters where I have taken 18. I would have appreciated (tuition) being set up based on what I’m taking rather than a flat expensive rate.”
Due to the decline in state funding VCU has had to get creative with how to increase revenue. The new tuition structure is one of those strategies.
“Tuition is not unlike taxes,” Bosher said. “At some point people get to a tipping point and they wont want to pay it.”
To avoid getting to that tipping point Bosher said VCU would benefit from becoming more efficient. He said this means larger classes, faculty teaching more classes and the implementation of more technology.
Along with the new tuition model, the school has also rolled out new programs such as the Do the Math Campaign, which encourages students to sign up for 15 credits per semester to increase the university’s four year graduation rate.
VCU is pushing to not only improve the graduation rate, but also the retention rate as well. On the per-credit system students save about $18,000 if they graduate in four years instead of five.
At a meeting earlier this month the Board of Visitors approved the implementation of the new tuition structure for the second cohort of entering students.