George Mason University raises tuition, despite coronavirus pandemic

It won’t be a popular move as people struggle financially during the coronavirus pandemic, but George Mason University has decided to raise tuition.

The school’s Board of Visitors voted 15-1 Wednesday to adopt a new $1.18 billion budget that includes a $450 tuition hike for in-state and out-of-state students.

The board said that the Fairfax school should prioritize reducing tuition if more state or federal funding becomes available.

“This is a ceiling for what we’ll charge, this isn’t the floor,” said Tom Davis, the university’s rector.

The tuition increase is significantly lower than what was originally planned for before the pandemic hit. The board said it lowered the increase after holding listening sessions with students to hear about their economic situations.

With the tuition hike, the university, which is the state’s largest public research university with 38,000 students, plans to invest more in support services for students, including academic coaches and advisers.

It also plans to spend more on online education and technological infrastructure to support virtual learning.

“We know that even a small tuition increase can affect our students and their families,” said interim President Anne Holton. “At the same time, we must make strategic investments to serve our students and keep them on track to graduate. That is how we will emerge stronger from these crises and play a significant role in lifting the region and state economy in the coming years”

Other colleges and universities in Virginia — including James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Christopher Newport University and the College of William & Mary — have agreed on plans to hold tuition steady in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus and the uncertainty of when students will return to campus.

George Mason University will “freeze noncritical hiring, slow spending, defer cost, and eliminate, reduce or delay noncritical expenses as the university considers the pandemic’s financial impact in 2020-21 and the long-term financial health of the university,” a news release said.

In April, state lawmakers held a legislative session where they voted to delay several of their initiatives, including freezing in-state college tuition.

Gov. Ralph Northam said he’ll likely call lawmakers back into a special session later this year to adjust their spending priorities after the state has a better handle on what the virus’s impact has been on revenues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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