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University of Virginia student Ahmad Brown speaks out against tuition increases during a public meeting with members of the Board of Visitors Friday at Newcomb Hall. Public Virginia universities must now hold public comment before considering tuition increases.

A handful of University of Virginia students spoke at the school’s new public comment session for potential tuition increases.

At Friday’s session, a handful of students spoke against the increases and suggested other uses for the additional revenue. The public comment period was added due to a new state law requires that requires boards overseeing universities and colleges to hear public comment when tuition increases are proposed.

Alex Hendel, a fourth-year student at UVa, said that for many students, the proposed tuition increases are significant.

“These tuition increases affect whether students come back in the following years,” Hendel said.

The university currently plans to raise undergraduate tuition and fees between 3% and 4% for both in-state and out-of-state students, though each school has different rates and Thursday’s presentation didn’t offer specific numbers.

Mandatory fees could increase between 3% and 6% because of an expansion of student health and wellness services and the operating costs associated with a new student health and wellness facility.

UVa officials said Friday that the tuition increases would bring in $9.6 million to $12 million. That additional revenue would go toward 3% merit raises for faculty and staff, operational cost increases and other programming.

“We want to recruit and retain the best faculty, and we have been having losing ground recently with some of our competitors,” said J.J. Davis, chief operating officer for UVa.

Students who spoke during the hearing suggested using the revenue to fund more mental health counselors at the schools and to make student housing more affordable.

This school year, an in-state student in the College of Arts and Sciences would pay $16,640 in tuition and fees, according to university estimates. Out-of-state students in the College pay $49,970.

UVa students pay varying levels of tuition and fees depending on which school they enroll in; specific rates for each school have not yet been announced. The full Board of Visitors will vote on tuition and fees for 2020-21 school year at its Dec. 6 meeting.

University officials prefaced Friday’s public hearing with an explanation about the recently adopted strategic plan as well as UVa’ tuition philosophy.

The presentation repeatedly touted AccessUVa, the university’s financial aid program that meets all of a student’s demonstrated financial need.

AccessUVa packages may contain loans, however, or work requirements for students.

“At the core, it’s really the university that decides what your needs are,” said Jacob Wartel, who is chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at UVa. “We don’t want just more benevolence from a university that can take away aid or give more at any time. We want the root cause of tuition costs and fees to really be addressed.”

Wartel said his organization has collected more than 300 emails from students who are against the increase.

“Because the truth is, is that the university can afford to freeze tuition,” Wartel said.

University officials pointed to lagging state support as a driver of tuition increases, but Stacie Gordon, the state advocacy manager for Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, told board members that the university shouldn’t blame the state when it has a $9.6 billion endowment.

“This is a university that has the financial resources to hold the line on tuition increases,” Gordon said.

Last year, the Board of Visitors did not enact a planned 2.9% increase to the base in-state tuition rate in exchange for $5.52 million more from the state as part of a deal offered to all colleges and universities in the Commonwealth. A 3.5% increase to base out-of-state tuition rates did go into effect.

On Friday, the Institute of Higher Education Policy released a report on the affordability of flagship universities throughout the country. The report’s author’s UVa ”comes close to being affordable [for low-income students]” and was the one institution to meet the benchmark for middle-income students.

Davis said raising tuition is a last resort.

“However, maintaining the balance between academic quality affordability and accessibility is both an art and a science,” she said. “So for us, we have to look at this issue carefully to make sure we can maintain our academic excellence and prepare our students for the 21st century.

The academic division of UVa has a $1.9 billion operating budget for this school year. Cost increases for next year are expected to total $20.9 million, Davis said. Additionally, the university is expecting state funding to drop by $7 million.

“So there’s still significant gaps between the resources that we’re seeking and the needs and wants of the institution,” she said.

Rector Jim Murray said at the beginning of the meeting that the board was present to hear from students, adding that it has several stakeholders to consider from students and the general public to lenders and donors.

“What happens with your tuition influences all of those constituencies,” he said.

The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposal before the Board of Visitors votes on it in December. Comments and questions can be sent to respond at uva_tuition@virginia.edu.

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