Public higher education cost continue to go up while lower and middle income families struggle to keep up with the cost.

by theintrospectivemaster

Tuition in Virginia has increased dramatically in recent history. For example, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) reported that the average increase for in-state undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees from the 2009-2010 school year to the 2010-2011 school year was 13.1 percent at public four-year institutions. Similarly, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) reported in its 2012 Review of State Spending that tuition and fees increased on average $804 per student or 9.4% between years 2010-2011 to 2011-2012 (1).

The JLARC 2012 report reveals Virginia’s average annual in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions of higher education was $9,618 in 2011, ranking the eleventh highest average in the nation; Virginia was ranked fourteenth in terms of costs in 2010. Virginia jumped 3 spots up the list in one year. This signals costs have increased in the Commonwealth of Virginia at a rate faster than other states in just a one year period. Over the year period of 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 (6 years), tuition in Virginia increased by an average of 33%, indicating that increases in costs is not necessarily a recent phenomenon (1).

Costs among Virginia’s public higher education institutions have increased at an alarming rate. When Senators and the President talk about college costs reducing affordability and access for families, the measure used to compare the rate of college costs to other increases of costs to other goods is known as the consumer price index (CPI); this measure is a collection of assorted goods sold in the national economy and tracks the % change of the prices for those selected goods. By doing this, it produces comparison of price changes. When Senators and the President talk about college costs reducing affordability and access to families this is the measure they use to make that determination.

The rate of inflation calculated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the five year period 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 averaged 10.3%; Virginia’s tuition increases outpaced the rate of inflation by more than 22%. JLARC argues that costs have increased faster than incomes (1).The data provided thus far show costs are going up and outpacing the costs of other goods in the economy.

Have incomes increased to offset the increases in tuition and fees? The answer is “sort of” as incomes vary by different quintile classifications and income groups have experienced different growth rates. Comparatively, however, as costs have increased, those costs have grown at a rate that is greater than household earnings. In sum, households are paying more to send their children to college, but their incomes have not increased to compensate those increases. In turn, this leads to reduced affordability and access.

Data pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey database shows the median household income for the state of Virginia experienced a decline in year 2008 as a result of the economic recession; however, it seems it began to recover following 2009 once the recession had officially ended. However, when examining the household income by quintile, the picture is a bit different, especially income groups represented by the lower quintile classification (2).

The median household income in Virginia showed a relatively high aggregated average income of $60,000+ with the exception of the decrease experienced as a result of the economic recession in 2008 (2); when looking at the household income by quintile classification, however, there is significant difference among the income classifications.

Lower income groups are enrolling in greater numbers to attend public higher education institutions (income groups classified as below the median household income make up more than 50% of the total population of enrollments) (3). These enrollments are occurring at a time when costs of attendance are increasing and when household earnings have remained flat or decreased throughout the six year period. Importantly, the proportional share of income that is accounted for in terms of mandatory costs reflects that those income groups that are among the lower quintile classifications are disproportionately affected by changes in costs. Low income residents are paying substantially higher percentages of their income relative to the cost of attendance (4).

(1) Joint Legislative Audit And Review Commission (JLARC), (2012).Virginia compared to other states: National rankings on states, budgetary components, and other indicators (419). Retrieved from Commonwealth of Virginia website:

(2) United States Census Bureau. (2013). American community survey: Mean household income of quintiles Virginia; years 2006-2011 [Data File]. Retrieved from

(3) State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). (2013). SCHEV research: Annualized in-state fte enrollment [Data File]. Retrieved from

(4) State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). (2013). SCHEV research:Annualized in-state fte enrollment [Data File]. Retrieved from

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), (2006-2012).Tuition and fees at Virginia’s state supported colleges and universities. Richmond,VA: The Commonwealth of Virginia.