By Mason Votes Staff Writer Ethan Vaughan
Tuition for George Mason University students rose by 9.8 percent for in-state students and 9.7 percent for out-of-state students between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. These numbers are well in excess of the national average of 6.5 percent.
Annual tuition now stands at $7,512 for in-state students and $21,648 for out-of-state students.
Mason Press Secretary Dan Walsch said that out-of-state tuition, which stands at more than double the in-state cost, helps the school during lean financial times, and stated candidly that Mason would be helped if more out-of-state students came.
“We recognize the importance of a healthy balance between in-state and out-of-state students,” Walsch said. “Having people here from other states and other countries enriches our culture. At the same time, we have to be sensitive to the political needs of the legislators in the General Assembly. Some of them have proposed actually putting a cap on the number of out-of-state students admitted, because they reason that every classroom seat given to someone from out of state is a seat that won’t go to a Virginian. These are the people who vote to give us the money we need to operate. Part of it is political.”
Shannell Austin, a freshman from Philadelphia, said out-of-state students bear too heavy a burden. “Most of the out-of-state people I know are talking about transferring because they can’t pay the tuition,” she said. “Even with financial aid, I’ll probably drop out or transfer next semester.”
Elvin Keller, a first-year student from Alabama, agreed.
“I’m in a fortunate situation and my parents can afford to send me here,” he said. “But for a lot of the other out-of-state students it’s really hard. My friend, Rose, is out-of-state and she works on campus. She works 40 hours a week and does 18 credits. She’s stressed out and tired all the time. She really wanted to come here, though—she was determined.”
Tuition usually has be raised at least slightly each year to reflect inflation, but Mason costs of attendance have gone up by at least five percent every year since 2000, while during the same period inflation has never exceeded 3.8 percent. Since the onset of recession the dollar has actually experienced 1.4 percent deflation, which means that Mason’s 9.8 percent tuition rise is in practical terms closer to a 10.2 percent hike.
This comes at a time when the school has exceeded its fall 2009 enrollment target by 1,500 students, beating out Virginia Commonwealth University to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Walsch said that the steep tuition increase was the result of “severe revenue shortfalls” in Richmond. “George Mason is a public university,” he said. “And its primary source to exist is public money. In the last year and a half, the General Assembly has cut $40 million from our budget. We have to make that up, and to maintain the quality and institutions here, we’ve been turning to raising tuition. We’re not insensitive to the financial demands on families. We know there’s people out there right now who are struggling to stay in their homes, to put food on their tables. We’re just trying to continue being able to do what we do as an institution.”
Walsch noted that Mason has taken other steps besides raising tuition to handle the financial situation, such as increasing class sizes, offering fewer sections, hiring fewer adjunct faculty, reducing the hours of certain services, such as the health center, and reducing transportation costs.
Walsch said that tuition isn’t likely to stop going up anytime soon. “Things are going to be tight for the next few years,” he said. “Virginia has a lot of other issues—transportation, state police and other things, and they’re all important.”