As students return to local colleges, most will be welcomed back with higher tuition costs.
Costs are rising this year at Liberty University, Randolph College, the University of Lynchburg, formerly known as Lynchburg College, and Central Virginia Community College.
Locally, private college tuition has risen by roughly nine percent in the last three years.
College officials cited increased operating costs as the reason for the rise, pointing to higher prices for insurance, energy, software and other necessities required to run a college campus.
“Our costs go up every year and we’ve got to figure out how to cover those,” Randolph President Bradley Bateman said.
Similarly, tuition costs for public institutions in Virginia have risen roughly 11 percent over the last three years, according to State Council of Higher Education reports. Tuition costs at two-year institutions, such as CVCC, have climbed 2.5 percent overall in that same time frame.
Locally, Randolph and the University of Lynchburg have the highest tuition rates. Randolph lists tuition at $39,000 per year on its website, and UL comes in at $38,560 for 2018-19.
Officials at both schools are quick to note that few students pay the full amount.
Steve Bright, vice president for business and finance at the University of Lynchburg, said publicly funded colleges and universities don’t provide as much institutional aid to students as UL does, which makes the school “competitive if you work through the numbers.”
In addition to institutional aid, many of UL’s students take out federal loans.
U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard data shows the average annual cost to attend the University of Lynchburg is $21,592. For Randolph College, that number is $24,215.
Scorecard data lists an average debt load of $27,000 for graduates at both schools, with 69 percent of students at UL and 64 percent of students at Randolph receiving federal loans.
Bateman said Randolph subsidize costs for most students through institutional aid.
One major discount for students comes in the form of the Local Education Access Program, which limits tuition to $12,000 a year for students from Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Campbell, and Nelson.
“We’re always collecting less money from the students than it costs to run the college,” Bateman said, noting the college turns to donations and its endowment to close that gap.
Residential tuition at Liberty has risen each of the last three years, but costs have remained flat for online learners since 2015, according to Rob Ritz, executive vice president of finance.
Residential students at LU pay $23,800 in tuition per year. Online students pay differing rates based on program and the course load taken. The standard undergraduate rate is $390 per credit hour, though part-time students pay $455 per credit hour. Ritz explained that the discount is an incentive for students to enroll full time in Liberty University Online. Other discounts are offered to military members, first responders, and some corporate partners.
Like Randolph and the University of Lynchburg, most LU students receive some financial aid. Ritz noted that institutional aid tends to be higher for residential students than online.
Factoring in graduate programs, College Scorecard data lists Liberty’s average annual cost of attendance at $23,815, with 67 percent of students receiving federal loans and an average debt of $24,166 after graduation.
Tuition at Sweet Briar College was reduced last fall; a move that officials said makes the sticker price reflect the cost students pay after institutional aid is disbursed. At $21,000 per year, that comes close to the College Scorecard reported cost of $24,606. That data shows 52 percent of students receiving federal loans and an average debt of $27,000 after graduation.
“Sweet Briar was evaluating everything… obviously with the goal of increasing enrollment,” said Melissa Richards, SBC vice president for communications and enrollment management.
The tuition reset came after the near closure of Sweet Briar in 2015 for financial reasons. Richards said that as it has rebuilt, new President Meredith Woo emphasized shifting the sticker price down to match the actual amount students paid, after the discount rate was applied. Richards said the idea behind the reduction was to make tuition costs transparent.
Tuition at Virginia University of Lynchburg will remain the same this academic year at $8,200. The last tuition increase at the school came in the 2016-17 academic year, according to VUL President Kathy Franklin, which saw the cost rise by $1,000, up from $7,200.
CVCC continues to offer the lowest tuition of local colleges at $161 per credit hour for in-state students and $358 per credit hour for out-of-state tuition. For in-state students taking a typical 12 credit hour load, CVCC tuition comes to $3,780 a year. For out-of-state students that figure comes to $8,612, assuming a 12 credit hour load taken over the course of a single year.
CVCC was the first to resume classes this semester on Aug. 20. Classes began Thursday for Sweet Briar and the University of Lynchburg. Liberty, Randolph and VUL begin Monday.