The smart budget decisions helping one university avoid tuition hikes

While others are struggling to fight the effects of inflation, Troy University is giving students a break.

Conducting an audit can be cumbersome and uncomfortable, but that shrewd move made by Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. back in the early 1990s has led to profound rewards for Troy University and its students.

After identifying and fixing several areas of redundancy, most notably separate accreditation of four campuses that were fused into one, the building of a more streamlined and efficient Troy began. Now, with 200 degree programs and millions of dollars poured into new infrastructure, the university is thriving. And keeping costs in line for students.

For the fourth consecutive year, Troy is not raising tuition or increasing mandatory fees for student for 2022-23. “At Troy, the most important thing we do is take care of students,” Hawkins said. “In a time of economic inflation, when the prices of so many consumer goods are rising, we feel it is our responsibility to keep our tuition as low as possible for our students.”

While a few other university leaders nationwide have echoed those words—including Purdue University’s Mitch Daniels, who has done so for 11 consecutive years—many institutions have said they cannot afford to do so. The University of North Alabama, which recently announced it is raising tuition by 5% for 2022-23, said inflation is to blame. Students who attend the University of Minnesota system, meanwhile, will see between a 1.75% and 3.5% increase to their costs, with its Board of Regents noting that “as we emerge from the pandemic, the results [on tuition revenues] are better but continue to fall below budget in 16 of the 25 tuition-generation institutions.”

Those that aren’t struggling to attract new students are increasing tuition, too. A recent report from Campus Reform shows that the majority of highly selective institutions have installed increases since 2020, with Northwestern University, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon all topping 4%. The University of Southern California has raised its tuition nearly 7%, while Vanderbilt has soared above 11%. Many increases fall short of the current rate of inflation, which is at 8.58%, posing further challenges for boards and institutions that have been blindsided by rising costs. However, the danger in raising tuition is losing students, and the higher education sector has seen attrition of more than 1.4 million since the pandemic began, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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Even those that have held the line on tuition, such as public universities in Idaho, have had to increase fees to make up for projected shortfalls. However, Troy refuses to do that. Its Clear Cost Plan actually cuts lab fees, registration fees and course fees. Tuition is the same for all in-state students regardless of modality. Officials point back to that initial audit and a continuous focus on finding budget items that are bloated to be key in keeping costs down.

“We have eliminated all of our mandatory enrollment fees that most universities have long adopted as standard pricing strategies,” said Jim Bookout, Senior Vice Chancellor for Financial Affairs. “The advantage to students and families is transparency in our pricing. Unlike some institutions, Troy University cannot freeze tuition rates while simultaneously increasing an array of enrollment fees.”

Reflecting the highs and lows of costs from institution to institution, colleges and universities across the state of Virginia show how disparate they are in their approaches. The News & Advance in Virginia reports that three institutions—Sweet Briar University, Randolph College and the University of Lynchburg—all have dropped tuition by thousands to remain competitive. William & Mary is remaining level for 2022-23, but Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth are eyeing increases of 3%. The University of Virginia had done well during the pandemic to reduce costs, lowering tuition by 7.4%, but is looking at increases of 4.7% and 3.7%, respectively, in the next two years.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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