May 7, 2019
Should Students Vote Before Colleges Raise Tuition?

Attending class, turning in papers, and making sure tuition bills are paid on time are all traditional college student responsibilities. But what if voting on proposed tuition increases was added to the list?  

That’s what one Virginia senator has in mind with a proposal in the 2019 Virginia General Assembly session. Senator Richard Stuart (R-28) filed a bill last week that would require an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the eligible student body before any board-approved tuition hike could take effect.

“The ultimate check on college tuition increases,” tweeted Dr. James Toscano, president of Partners.

It’s an out of the box idea, for sure.

But such a bill should come as no surprise to observers of Virginia's college affordability policy debates. Though state appropriations have been on the rise since 2013, tuition and fees set by college boards continue to skyrocket, undermining the narrative that state disinvestment is the driver of soaring rates. Nationally, the rise in tuition and fees has also far outstripped the rise in household incomes.

And stress about personal finances is common among college students and contributes to negative academic consequences like taking longer to graduate or dropping out of school altogether, sometimes with student loan debt.

Partners has stood out in the U.S. as an advocate for stronger accountability when it comes to institutional rate-setting. In 2018, Partners led the fight to empower students and families in Virginia public higher education decision-making by pushing for public comment opportunities prior to board tuition votes. And Partners is at it again this year, supporting a bipartisan effort to make public comment in higher education the law.  

“Trustees voting on tuition have little sensitivity to the financial hardship of students and families,” said Toscano. “Consumer engagement is the key to changing that.”  

Whether the student body should hold a referendum on board-approved tuition increases, or whether students are given traditional public comment opportunities at board meetings, student voices in Virginia won’t be tamped down much longer.

And with trendlines on affordability looking grim, and a resistance to even the most commonsense accountability measures,  you can bet policy solutions aimed at solving the problem will come in many forms, and from many quarters.