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West Virginia University raises tuition rate due to COVID expenses

Students attending West Virginia University in the Fall will see a 2 percent tuition increase. (Photo courtesy of West Virginia University)

CHARLESTON — Receiving more than $100 million in COVID-19 relief dollars since March 2020 wasn’t enough to offset lost revenue at West Virginia University, resulting in an increase in tuition rates.

The WVU Board of Governors in June approved a $1.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2022, covering the 2021-22 school year — a 1.5 percent budget increase over $1.083 billion for fiscal year 2021.

The board agreed to raise tuition rates by 2 percent. Annual undergraduate tuition and fee rates for 2021-22 are $9,144 for in-state students and $25,824 for out-of-state students. The increased rate amounts to an $84-per-semester increase for state residents and a $252 increase for non-residents.

“The last thing we want to do is raise tuition, but we need to invest in our university,” said Paula Congelio, vice president for finance and chief financial officer at WVU, in a phone interview Thursday.

“We want to make our student experience better, so we need to invest in our faculty and staff,” Congelio continued. “We want to invest in our campus. We want our online student experience to be better, so we need to invest in technology to make those classes as great as they might be getting somewhere else. And we need to keep our facilities up to the standards that our students are looking for so that it is enticing for them to come to Morgantown.”

The 2 percent increase is meant to account for a 1.5 percent cut in state funding to WVU in the fiscal year 2022 general revenue budget. Other assumptions include a decrease in first-time freshman enrollment, a 3 percent increase in housing revenue with occupancy rates remaining flat, increases in scholarship expenses for eligible students, a modest increase in revenue from grants and various contracts and $5 million in estimated COVID-19 expenses.

The Board of Governors kept tuition rates the same during the previous fiscal year — five months into the COVID-19 pandemic — though originally school officials planned for a 2 percent increase that year. In fiscal year 2020, tuition only increased by 1.4 percent.

“Because of the pandemic and because of the financial difficulties our families and students and families were having, we didn’t implement that tuition increase,” Congelio said. “In 2019 before that, we had the lowest tuition increases the university saw in at least two decades.”

Annual undergraduate tuition and fee rates for 2020-21 were $8,976 for in-state students and $25,320 for out-of-state students. During the spring and fall of 2020 and into the winter and spring of 2021, WVU moved many classes online, students were frequently tested for COVID-19 and masks and distancing were required.

WVU saw $4.9 million in COVID-19 expenses after disbursements in fiscal year 2021, with $5 million in COVID-19 expenses estimated for fiscal year 2022. The university received more than $104 million dollars from three tranches of federal COVID-19 relief dollars, including $20.2 million from the C.A.R.E.S. Act in March 2020, $30.7 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December and $54 million from the American Rescue Plan in March 2021.

Congelio said the $104 million still didn’t cover all of WVU’s COVID-19 related expenses and lost revenue from decreased enrollment, canceling of auxiliary programs and summer camps and loss of international students during the pandemic. Those numbers were not immediately available.

“There were so many things curtailed through the year,” Congelio said. “Half of that money had to be given out to students for financial aid. The other half we were able to use to supplement our lost revenues and increased expenses, and it did not fully supplement us, so there was still a gap.”

Students will also see a $24 university fee increase, with $12 going towards student mental health services. While the university was planning to expand its mental health services, the pandemic accelerated the need for services to help students navigate the psychological effects of the pandemic.

The West Virginia Legislature passed a general revenue budget in April that included a 1.5 percent cut to four-year and two-year colleges and universities. With a 1.5 percent cut — or a decrease in funding of $1.7 million — WVU received $109.3 million for fiscal year 2022.

State funding makes up approximately 10 percent of WVU’s total budget. The university received $110.7 million in state funding in fiscal years 2021 and 2020, up from $105.9 million in fiscal year 2019.

WVU has seen a decrease in student enrollment of 3.8 percent, from 29,959 students in Fall 2018 to 29,107 students in Fall 2020 between the Morgantown campus, WVU Tech in Beckley and Potomac State College in Preston County. Even with maintaining a student retention rate of 82 percent for freshmen who enrolled in 2019 and continued at the university in 2020, the drop in enrollment hurt revenues.

In an effort to cut costs, WVU reduced its budget by 2.2 percent, from $1.107 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $1.083 billion in 2021. The university also cut the number of full-time employees by 5.3 percent, from 5,557 employees in 2019 to 5,368 employees in 2021. Congelio said the university has kept hiring frozen and uses a voluntary separation incentive plan

“I know we continue to look at ways to do things better,” Congelio said. “With automation and so many things we do across the campus, we’re always looking at trying to gain efficiencies … if we’re going to be a smaller university from an enrollment standpoint, we need to change the way we do business to meet that incoming revenue.”

Tuition increased 5.7 percent in 2019 and 5 percent in 2018. The amount of in-state tuition increased by 3.3 percent over the last four years, from $8,856 for the 2018-2019 school year to $9,144 for the incoming school year. Out-of-state tuition increased by 3.5 percent over the same period, from $24,960 in 2018-2019 to $25,824 for the incoming school year. Congelio said the university is trying to keep tuition increases as small as possible.

“We took a strategic stance a few years ago and knew that we needed to stay competitive with our tuition rates,” Congelio said. “We wanted the total tuition our students paid to be a bit predictable going forward … for the last couple of years we have been really in tune to watching those rates of increase.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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