In most U.S. states, public college and university tuition and fees are set by public governing boards, often appointed by the governor. In setting the tuition and fee rate, these public officials weigh many factors, including institutional budget needs, available student aid, state investment levels, and consumer ability to pay. At the end of the day, the issue comes to a vote.
The Trustee Votes Project, which has been initiated as a pilot in Virginia, takes available (but often hard to decipher) public data from each institution on the tuition and fee votes of its board members. This database allows anyone to track the public votes of public officials in Virginia who vote on tuition and fee rates, including board member identification, affiliated institution, vote, percentage change in tuition rate, and appointing governor.
The Trustee Votes Project seeks to help restore public trust in higher education institutions by increasing transparency and strengthen institutional governance through stakeholder participation in decision making that affects consumers. Central to these objectives is public understanding of who makes decisions related to tuition and fees and what was decided.
The “Change” column indicates the annual percent increase of tuition and total mandatory fees for full-time, in-state undergraduates according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The annual increase compares an academic year to the previous academic year.
Although the University of Virginia’s College at Wise is a public state university, its board is not appointed by the governor. Furthermore, its tuition rate is officially set by the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. Therefore, individual votes of the UVA College at Wise board have not been posted.
Boards vote to set the tuition rate at different times of the year. For most Virginia boards, a tuition vote that took place in a given year, usually in the spring, went into effect later that year for the fall semester. However, the University of Virginia and College of William & Mary, as examples, vote at the end of the calendar year on a tuition rate that will go into effect for the following fall semester.
The William & Mary change in tuition and fees compares the change in rates for first-time freshmen and transfer students. Under the William & Mary Promise, tuition for in-state undergraduates is guaranteed not to change during their four years.
The James Madison change in tuition and fees compares the change in rates for first-time freshmen and transfer students with the change in rate for current students. Under The Madison Pledge, tuition for in-state is guaranteed not to change by more than three percent during their four years as long as state funding for the university does not significantly decrease.