By TAYLOR STUCK
HUNTINGTON - Yet another tuition increase at Marshall University is being attributed by officials as the result of declining revenue and increasing costs out of the university's control, but President Jerome Gilbert said he is working on several different initiatives to keep costs lower in other areas.
In a special board meeting Wednesday, the university board of governors approved a 3.5% tuition and fee increase for the 2019-20 school year. This will bring tuition to $4,206 for undergraduate West Virginia residents, $9,633 for undergraduate nonresidents, and $7,248 for metro-area students in select counties in Ohio and Kentucky.
Gilbert said Thursday he and Chief Financial Officer Mark Robinson did a lot of work to get the increase down, initially thinking it would have to be a 4% increase.
"We are aware of the rising cost of college and we certainly don't want to contribute to that unnecessarily, but with the increased cost of running the campus and decreased student numbers, we thought this was a modest but appropriate increase for tuition for our students," Gilbert said.
It's the eighth year the university has increased tuition amid rising costs and declining state appropriations. As an example of the impact, a student whose first semester was Fall 2016 and is enrolling for Fall 2019 will pay $629 more per semester, or 17.6% more.
The state Legislature did allocate an additional $1 million to the university for the next budget year, but that barely puts a dent in the $9 million to $10 million in cuts the university has taken over the past six years, with the exception of last year when funding remained steady, Gilbert said.
The low state funds are paired with a decline in full-time students enrolled at Marshall, even though the absolute headcount at Marshall has increased.
While revenues have decreased at Marshall, utility costs have risen. Robinson said the cost of software the university uses for things like billing and managing scholarships has also gone up sharply.
"We have been trying to put some things in place to try and recapture some money," Gilbert said. "As positions go vacant, we have a freeze committee and those positions have to go in front of the freeze committee in order to get approval to fill those positions. We've eliminated 130-something positions over the past four or five years in cost-saving-measure procedures."
Provost Jaime Taylor also is working with faculty to evaluate the number of positions to determine which are necessary and which can be eliminated.
Gilbert also has given support to an initiative to lower textbook costs led by Student Body President Hunter Barclay and Vice President Hannah Petracca.
Barclay said the rising cost of textbooks is a growing concern among students. On average, a student spends $1,200 on books, access codes and online learning software each academic year.
Using just 22 of the most popular programs at Marshall, Barclay found if professors would switch to using textbooks under $100 or free books through open-access programs, it would save students $1.2 million in just one academic year.
"That's just 22 programs," he said. "Imagine if every program did that."
Gilbert is offering departments a financial incentive if its faculty members will pledge to use open-source or lower-cost textbooks.
The university is also in the midst of a capital campaign, encouraging alumni to donate to scholarships. Gilbert said he is really pushing for need-based scholarships, like the one he established with his wife.
"I think that's where, not only Marshall, but many other institutions are going to be saying to their donors, this is where you can have one of the biggest impacts - through need-based scholarships for those who exhibit a real financial need and a real desire to have support so they can go to college, so there is no barrier for students going to college," he said.
The university also has increased the amount of funds given through institutional scholarships, now at $1 million, funded through tuition revenue, state funds and third-party revenue like the bookstore.
Barclay said the tuition increase does affect students and can make it difficult, but he believes Gilbert and the board did as much as they could to limit the impact on students.
"I know from conversations with students, there is hope there will no longer be increases to tuition in the future," Barclay said, adding the incoming student body administration is making it a priority to work with faculty and students to come up with innovative solutions to keep tuition steady.
Gilbert said he is also hopeful, and believes the university will either have steady or slightly higher enrollment in the fall.
West Virginia University's board of governors will vote on tuition and fee schedules Friday, April 12.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.
Marshall University tuition increases beginning in 2014 for in-state students
Year Pct increase Tuition (and fees)
2013 * $3,108
2014 5.00% $3,263
2015 3.40% $3,407
2016 5.00% $3,577
2017 9.00% $3,899
2018 4.25% $4,064
2019 3.50% $4,206
* Listed as base year for comparison