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UMW weighs tuition increase

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The University of Mary Washington could face a 6 percent tuition increase for the next academic year.

Members of the school’s board of visitors said the tuition hike is needed to fund a $4.7 million increase in the school’s upcoming fiscal year 2015 budget.

But that projected extra $1.6 million won’t address all of the school’s funding woes, according to Chief Financial Officer Rick Pearce. With other sources of expected new revenue, including fees, the school would be just shy of $1 million in the red.

A 6 percent tuition increase would mean adding $792 for in-state students and $1,564 for out-of-state students.

The BOV discussed tuition Thursday in the midst of a state budget gridlock. With no idea of how much state funding UMW will receive, Pearce cautioned the board not to make any tuition decisions until the state budget is passed.

The uncertain state budget prompted the board to push back tuition decisions to its May meeting.

“With the budget at an impasse at the General Assembly, we find ourselves in uncharted water,” rector Holly Cuellar said. “Until the state budget passes, I see no choice other than to postpone final action.”

The board already voted in November on raising room and board rates 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

At this week’s meeting, the board also discussed a 4 percent increase, but UMW president Rick Hurley said, “regardless of what happens in Richmond, I’m recommending a 6 percent raise in tuition.”

Key drivers for the upcoming budget include state-mandated costs, such as a 1 percent salary raise for all employees and benefits increases totaling $2.1 million, and addressing the academic year’s enrollment shortfall totaling $1.3 million. Other issues include unavoidable utilities increases and initiatives to grow enrollment, retain students and improve admissions.

“We cannot cut this budget if we want to achieve the level of greatness we want to get to,” Hurley said.

If the budget is at a deficit after tuition increases and state funding are solidified, staff said options to close the budget gap might be to increase enrollment, delay projects, delay or freeze hiring or increase fees.

The board also discussed priorities that will not be funded.

“Now, the most important issue to me is faculty salaries,” said board member and chair of the finance committee Joe Wilson. “It bothers me a 6 percent [tuition increase] only has 1 percent [salary increase]. If we’re going to go for greatness, we can’t do without attracting and keeping great faculty. Having said that, I would entertain more than a 6 percent increase if it meant increasing faculty salary.”

Related to faculty salary in the discussion was transitioning adjunct faculty into full-time faculty members.

“We use a lot of adjuncts and need to reduce that number,” said provost Jonathan Levin. “These are not fluff items. They have real substance in them. These are really critical items left out of the budget.”

Another need that will go unmet is an increase in counseling staff.

Pearce said every school nationwide is experiencing an increase in the number of students who need psychiatric help to manage their medication.

Board members Theresa Crawley and Lisa Taylor asked staff to return to the board’s May meeting with cost comparisons to other Virginia institutions and more tuition options.

Board member Joe Grzeika asked staff how delaying a decision on tuition would impact the number of students enrolling for the fall semester.

Enrollment is key to the upcoming budget, according to Pearce. The school is currently dealing with a shortfall after the current academic year’s number of enrolled students was lower than expected.

To stay at the current expected level of funding, the school needs 1,500 incoming students.

To balance the budget, UMW would need another 200 students enrolled.

However, UMW has recovered from a slump in undergraduate applications, according to outgoing admissions director Carol Descak.

In a presentation to the board of visitors Wednesday, Descak said the number of in-state applications for the Class of 2018 rose 19 percent, from 4,428 in 2013 to 5,256 in 2014.

Out-of-state applications rose 34 percent from 873 to 1,174 during the same time period.

“In a highly competitive marketplace, those numbers bode well for a strong entering class,” Cuellar said.

Descak said that’s a good sign after a year of record-low applications.

The increase in applications has allowed the admissions department to lower the percentage of admitted students. Last year at this time, 79 percent of students who applied were admitted to UMW. Staff later had to dip into the wait list to round out the freshman class, bringing the rate of admitted students up to 80 percent. Last year, UMW even kept the application period open through the summer for transfer students.

That percentage rose steadily over the last decade. For the 2007–08 academic year, UMW admitted just over 70 percent of applicants.

So far, 74 percent of applicants have been offered admission to the university for the 2014–15 academic year.

“I’m hoping we don’t have to dip [into the] wait list,” Descak said. “We are currently in a good place right now.”

The number of students admitted increased 16 percent for in-state students, from 3,141 to 3,640, and 29 percent for out-of-state, from 657 to 848.

However, applications from transfer students fell 11 percent.

In contrast, prospects for the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program increased 300 percent. Applications for that program went up 23 percent.

Interest in UMW’s graduate programs did not fare as well as undergraduate admissions. Prospective students for the MBA program fell 25 percent, and inquiries about the master’s in education program fell 37 percent.

According to Descak, marketing and recruitment for new bachelor’s of nursing and master’s in geospatial analysis programs are underway.


Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976


Longtime higher education administrator Kimberley Buster–Williams will succeed Carol Descak as associate provost for enrollment management.

Buster–Williams has spent nearly 20 years in college admissions, most recently as acting associate vice president for enrollment management at Northern Illinois University.

Buster–Williams will begin work at UMW on May 25.

As associate provost, she will oversee the office of admissions, the office of the university registrar and the office of financial aid, and become chair of UMW’s enrollment management and retention committee.

Buster–Williams will replace Carol Descak, who has served in the post since June 2012. Descak’s job was temporary while UMW conducted a nationwide search for the position.

Prior to her position at Northern Illinois University, Buster–Williams served as director of admissions at the University of Michigan at Flint. According to the release, she oversaw enrollment growth of nearly 33 percent and an increase in high-achieving students there. She also has served in the admissions departments at Old Dominion University and Johnson and Wales University.