Students attend Tuition Town Hall.
BY ERICA MUNISAR, NEWS EDITOR
Mason has proposed a tuition recommendation of a flat $300 increase regardless of student level or residency and a 3% increase in mandatory student fees for the 2024 fiscal year. The funding allocation is undetermined.
The proposal follows challenges to maintain delivering quality education following a need for competitive compensation, inflation impacts on facility costs and rapid university student growth. Mason currently holds a lower tuition than schools such as William & Mary, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.
On March 21, a Tuition Town Hall was presented by Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Dickenson and Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell. Students were invited to attend and ask questions in order to encourage dialogue about tuition cost. The Tuition Town Hall was organized by Mason Student Government after they held a previous Town Hall in Fall 2022.
Dickenson touched on Mason’s growth and believed they may become the largest institution in Virginia post-pandemic. “We are approaching 40,000 students that will continue to grow from there. We’re projecting in over a five-year period we will get to approximately 45,000 students, and that’s an amazing achievement. We will, from my perspective, continue to be the largest scientific university and most diverse university in Virginia.”
Dickenson mentioned that inflation is an impacting factor in tuition raise. “We know that everyone experiences inflation, so does the university. Our contract costs are up more than 13%. On janitorial alone, it has almost doubled in a two-year period. Part of that is market competition and rates. We’re seeing similar increases so we do have to cover that to keep the university operating.”
The tuition raise helps efforts to provide faculty at Mason a competitive pay similar to other Virginia universities to ensure that faculty are retained and do not make lower than the cost of living. “Compensation is a big part of our budgets, and that’s funded primarily by tuition increases. The state funds only a portion of that salary increase, so we still have to recover that investment,” said Dickenson.
“Because of the market competition we’re having, we’re facing to retain faculty and staff and pay the competitive compensation level. We did do some targeted increases this year in addition to the merit increase. That was done to retain critical faculty and staff, and also to help our staff and faculty within the university who are making a level below an appropriate cost of living and trying to recognize that they need some additional help.”
Pascarell says that the tuition raise can benefit students and the quality of education. “Tuition supports a lot of things. Coaching and advising is one area that we’re focused on. We’re seeing incredible increases in the need for mental health resources across the country for students in high school and in college, and so we spent a lot of time focusing on how to provide increased mental health and well-being services for students on our campus. If you’ve been in Arlington lately, Mason Square is dramatically expanding and so providing services and transportation to Arlington is also one of the ways that tuition supports.”
“We’re looking at things like the faculty-student class ratio. The whole area of enhanced workforce development is really important—How do we take some of that tuition money and increase the number of on-campus jobs available to students and increase the amount of career support?”
Pascarell says Mason prioritizes helping low-income students while looking at a tuition raise.
“As we think about Mason’s commitment to access, it’s not just welcoming people, but it’s having our students be able to stay here and be able to afford to stay here through graduation. We’re thinking about affordability. What we know is through state grants, federal grants, and Mason aid including emergency funding, that we’re able to supplement the cost of tuition and fees with enough financial aid so that students in the lowest income levels don’t have to pay tuition and fees. Increasing financial aid has been a major priority, as we’ve worked with the administrations in Richmond, the General Assembly and the Senate.”
“Again, all of this impacts your ability to be successful. The goal is not just to get you through that but to get you through to whatever the next phase of your life will be in a successful way.”
The tuition proposal was presented to the Board of Visitors meeting on April 4 and will be further discussed in May’s meeting.