VCU projected to experience multi-million budget deficit

VCU is not expecting to meet enrollment expectations this fall semester. Photo By Ryan Dutcher

Katrina Lee, News Editor

The university is not expected to meet enrollment expectations for the fall semester, causing the university to project a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. 

The university’s enrollment was around 29,000 students in fall 2021, according to VCU’s annual report. This year, enrollment is not expected to reach its 1% enrollment increase projection, according to Tomikia LeGrande, vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success.

Falling short of enrollment projections is the result of multiple factors, such as COVID-19, LeGrande stated. 

“VCU had aggressive enrollment forecasts. We worked to bring in as many students as possible resulting in our largest freshman class post-COVID[-19],” LeGrande stated. “We have also been focusing on growing our retention of students. While we achieved many of our goals we did not achieve our lofty targets.”

More than 600 incoming freshmen decided against attending VCU in 2020 after receiving their acceptance letters –– a near 30% increase from the previous year –– making first-year students the most significant part of an enrollment drop at the university during COVID-19, according to a previous report from the Commonwealth Times. 

LeGrande also stated the competition for high school graduates between universities is highly intense. 

“More and more of these students are choosing to forego college, even after applying and being accepted,” LeGrande stated. “Additionally, community colleges have been facing enrollment declines over the past few years, which directly impacts the pipeline of traditional transfer students moving on to four-year institutions.”

Immediate college enrollment in the United States has decreased from 69.1% in 2018 to 61.8% in 2021, according to Best Colleges. 

LeGrande stated the shortfall in enrollment is isolated to a few schools within the university, which were expected to grow in enrollment this year. 

“We are hopeful to enroll more students in the spring and refocus our efforts on next year’s enrollment,” LeGrande stated.

The approximate enrollment for the freshman class this year is 4,200 students, which is “comparable to last year’s freshman class of 4,151 students,” said university spokesperson Brian McNeill. Actual enrollment numbers will become available later this fall.

Virginia Tech is expecting to achieve their enrollment project this fall, according to VT Media Relations Director Michael Stowe. 

“Interest in attending Virginia Tech has grown steadily in recent years. For context, we experienced a record number of applications for a second consecutive year,” Stowe stated. “However, I can say that we anticipate that we will achieve our enrollment goal of approximately 30,000 undergraduate students in Blacksburg this fall.”

Stowe said definitive enrollment census data for VT will also be available later in the fall. 

VCU’s Chief Financial Officer Karol Gray stated in an email the university will have to make up the difference for this deficit. 

“The University plans to fund this shortfall with strategic reductions, as well as additional efforts in financial aid, and retention packages to grow enrollment and retain students,” Gray stated. 

VCU is not planning to disengage from hiring faculty and staff despite the budget shortfall, according to Gray.

The university received just over $33 million from the state this year. Gray stated this money is to support the merit-based 5% salary increase for state employees of $13.7 million, central operating funds of $17.5 million and support for increased cost for O&M and the Rise initiative of $1.8 million.

VCU administration presented a range of tuition increases last May for 2023 between 3% and 6% for undergraduate and graduate students, following a three-year freeze on tuition, according to a previous report by the Commonwealth Times. VCU ended up keeping tuition flat for in-state undergraduates this year. 

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