Where does your tuition go? Mason answers in town hall

(Photo credit: Sarah Kladler/Fourth Estate)

Yesterday, Student Government sponsored an event where students learned how their tuition money is spent.

J.J. Davis, senior vice president for Administration and Finance, and Rose Pascarell, vice president for University Life, hosted the town hall as a way to explain how the tuition and fees payed by in-state students are spent.

“We were also asked to be even more transparent in terms of where your tuition dollars go, so the presentation is really an attempt to do just that,” Pascarell said.

A full-time, in-state Mason student pays $7,976 in tuition and $2,976 in fees for a total of $10,952.

In addition to the $7,976 in tuition payed by the student, the Commonwealth of Virginia contributes $5,488 for each student, totaling $13,464 in tuition for a single student. 91 percent of this $13,464 is then divided amongst the classroom, library, advising and faculty (73 percent); operations and plant maintenance (11 percent); and student services and scholarships (7 percent). The other 9 percent of tuition goes to institutional support, including marketing and communication, external relations, legal, admissions, fundraising, and finance and budget.

The $2,976 in fees is divided among student services and activities (about $808), athletics (about $544) and facilities (about $1,624).

The money students spend on a college education, though expensive, is ultimately an investment in their futures, and Mason is the best place for that investment, according to Davis.

“Mason has the best ROI (return on investment) in the State of Virginia,” the presentation said.

Pascarell emphasized this point by mentioning that Mason has a higher ROI than the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary. The average starting salary for a Mason graduate is $41,153 compared to the state-wide average of $36,067.

The presentation then shifted to how Mason becomes a “University for the World” and the accompanying costs for new programs and renovations.

Pascarell covered a variety of programs that Mason offers or is working to offer, including Stay Mason, Financial Literacy, Inclusive Excellence, Sexual Assault Prevention and the Mason Shuffle Project – all of which have budget implications.

The Stay Mason Student Support Fund is available to students “who are at risk of not continuing their education due to unexpected financial situations,” according to the University Life website.

This fund was created fairly recently and began accepting applications in October.

“It’s a fund that currently has $1million dollars in it…since October we’ve given out close to $200,000. There’s been a little more than 160 applications from students,” Pascarell said.

The Stay Mason program is working on developing a financial literacy program that would be available to the entire Mason community, according to Pascarell.

University Life also recently addressed 24/7 study space, specifically to fulfill commuter needs. Spaces kept open 24/7 have financial implications, some of which include maintenance fees.

“For the last couple years, that space has been located in the Ridge, which is a residence hall. … With the new Fenwick Library addition opening, we now have a 24/7 study space available to students,” Pascarell said.

Inclusive Excellence is an initiative that was created in response to the issues raised by the Concerned Student movement. University Life is working to improve cultural competencies of faculty and staff, recruit more faculty of color and in general create an inclusive campus climate, according to Pascarell.

Sexual Assault Prevention is another initiative Mason and universities across the nation have undertaken.

In addition, University Life is working on a three-year project that aims to map the student experience. Oftentimes, students are passed from one office to the next in an effort to complete something, such as declaring a major; this is referred to as the Mason Shuffle.

Davis then took over and discussed Wi-Fi, Robinson Hall and the budget.

“[Wi-Fi] is ever-increasingly important … [and] we have a need to upgrade our system,” Davis said.

In 2015, Mason created a strategic plan and roadmap to improve Wi-Fi. Mason plans on investing $40-50 million over the next 10 to 20 years into the Wi-Fi. In the 2016-17 school year, Mason will focus on adding density and access points, updating both the Johnson Center and 35 percent of residence halls.

Robinson Hall, home to 30 percent of university classrooms and 900 faculty and staff, will be renovated beginning in March 2018, assuming the state passes the current proposal.

Currently, Mason is creating the fiscal year financial plan for 2017. The fiscal year 2016 revenue budget was $977.6 million, of which 49 percent came from enrollment related fees, and 23 percent came from state funding.

According to Davis, state funding for higher education has been cut over the past two years, but budgets proposed  by the governor, the House and the Senate for 2017 all include an increase in funding, with the House’s proposed budget offering the highest increase of $19.7 million.

Mason is also seeking more financial autonomy from the State of Virginia.

“We’re asking for additional financial flexibility from the state, which means we have to do less state required paperwork and stuff like that. It’s an intense negotiation, and I don’t know if we’ll be successful,” Davis said.

Additionally, Mason is working to raise money to fund improvements to utility infrastructure, such as sewage and water systems.

The money students pay to the university is spent as efficiently as possible, as financial administrators aim to achieve the perfect combination of accessibility, affordability and quality.