CHARLES TOWN – Shepherd University will raise tuition nearly 7 percent next year to offset dwindling state aid, President Suzanne Shipley said.
She said the percentage of the cost of educating students at Shepherd University has been eroding for years and with big budget cuts also likely to come this year, the school is having to make difficult choices.
“We are significantly below the funding any of the funding (the state chancellor for community and technical colleges) indicates as the average funding for institutions,” Shipley said.
Shipley said since 2000, state support for public universities has dropped on average from 60 to 35 percent, and for Shepherd has dropped to below 20 percent of its overall budget.
“That’s because state funding has been frozen in place for many years, but we have been growing,” she said. “We are at least $1,000 per student below the average. So what that means is that when a student enrolls at Shepherd, our tuition does not make up for the cost.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed budget would cut an additional 8.9 percent from funding for state universities this year.
“The good news of having less state support is that it will mean a smaller hit to our budget,” Shipley said, noting the cuts would still complicate the school’s plans for the coming year.
“It makes it very hard to consider a competitive salary for our faculty. It makes it very hard to consider any new initiatives,” Shipley said. “We have to compete with other people’s salaries, so we need a raise that will at least cover inflation, which is difficult.”
Shepherd has announced it would raise tuition rates some 7 percent for next year, more than the average increase in previous years but still less than is necessary to fill the budget hole created by the cuts..
“In any given year we have a half million to a million dollars in new expenses. The way you have to cover that is to raise tuition 3 to 5 percent. This year, all the tuition increase is going to go to fill the gap that the state is leaving us with,” Shipley said. “There is no way for us to fund all of the normal improvements like additional bandwidth. That’s going to come out of reducing activities, reducing staffing, reducing care of equipment.”
“It feels like a hidden tax states defer the cost of education to students and parents.”
Shipley said she knows the state is being forced to make difficult budget choices, but argues that funding for higher education is important and should be a high priority.
“Everyone in higher ed understands that states have to make choices,” Shipley said. “I think it is part of the fact that when budgets get difficult, you have to make choices. What’s important about higher education is that it’s an investment in the state as well as individuals.”