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HEPC hikes in-state students' tuition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Higher Education Policy Commission approved tuition increases for several West Virginia colleges and universities on Tuesday -- bringing the average yearly cost for in-state students to $6,067.

Secretary of Education and the Arts Kay Goodwin and state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares, members of the HEPC, voted against the tuition hikes, citing concerns about debt for students and institutions.

"I'm not so worried about [universities] as I am about their students and their families and their loans. But in the very near future, we're going to see those institutions failing because of their student loan default rates," Goodwin said. "I think we only add to the problem when we increase tuition rates."

Phares said not enough of the state's students, especially those who come from low-income families, are graduating because they are overwhelmed by the costs of college.

"I'm concerned that students entering college have difficulty matriculating through the college system and ultimately have a huge debt," he said. "The percent of completers are mismatched with the needs of the workforce. Not enough are graduating with the skills and knowledge they need."

State code requires the HEPC to approve any in-state tuition and fee increases in excess of 5 percent. Those institutions that requested a tuition increase of at least 5 percent include West Virginia University, West Virginia State University, Concord University, Bluefield State College, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College and West Liberty University.

The average increase for in-state tuition next year is $380.

Tuition at WVU for the 2013-14 school year will be $6,456 for in-state undergraduates, an increase of more than $360 from last year. WVSU's tuition and fees will increase by nearly $500, bringing the annual tuition for residents to $5,932. Fairmont State is increasing tuition by about $500, as well, while Glenville State is increasing by $524.

Marshall University will increase its tuition and fees to about $6,200 -- an increase of 4.8 percent.

As in previous years, institutions were required to present their needs for tuition increases to the HEPC, aligning their tuition hikes with funding for their strategic goals.

This year was different, though, as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked all public higher education institutions to cut their 2013-14 budgets by 8.9 percent.

"It is not comfortable in the state of West Virginia to have tuition increases . . . ," HEPC Secretary Kathy Eddy said, "but I think they made their case."

HEPC Chairman David Hendrickson said that as a first-generation college student himself, he hates to see tuitions increase but that it's necessary.

"It's very difficult in the state of West Virginia to find money to send kids to school," he said, "but it's also very hard to balance a budget when we're facing tough economic times in the state."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the HEPC voted to proceed with a new student housing project at WVSU, which will add nearly 300 beds on campus and remove two deteriorating buildings.

The new residence hall is expected to be open by the fall 2014 semester, and is the first residence hall to be built on State's campus since 1968.

Hendrickson served at his last meeting Tuesday, and HEPC members voted for vice chairman Bruce Berry to take his place. Commission member Jenny Allen will now serve as vice chairman. Eddy will continue to serve as secretary.

Other HEPC members include Bob Brown, John Estep, John Leon and David Tyson.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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