Students can breathe a sigh of relief following the Board of Visitors’ decision to freeze tuition next year.
The board’s decision Friday was unanimous and extended to all JMU students — undergraduate and graduate, in-state and out-of-state.
However, while tuition plateaus, students will have to shell out an extra $124 in comprehensive fees and an additional $384 in room and board next year. The fee hikes mean a $508 increase from last year, pushing freshman out-of-state students’ total annual cost of attendance to over $40,000. Charlie King, the senior vice president for administration and finance, said the fee increases will cover operating costs, new facilities like the 150,000-square-foot College of Business building and student services.
“We looked every which way we could to make this a reality and bring you a proposal today that would hold down tuition and fees,” King said.
In an email sent to students, JMU President Jonathan Alger said that while the institution also faced economic challenges, the board took into account the financial hardships students and their families are facing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our main goal has been to continue to fulfill our educational mission and keep students on a path of academic progress,” Alger wrote in the email. “Today’s decision by the board is yet another way we will continue to support students in that endeavor.”
The freeze contradicts King’s previous sentiments at the Board of Visitors’ public comment meeting on April 28.
“We would have loved nothing better than to have this meeting today and say to you, ‘We have a 0% tuition increase for in-state students,’” King said in the forum two weeks ago. “But we don't find ourselves in that position.”
Due to the economic instability the coronavirus created, the Virginia General Assembly began to reevaluate the $7 million they planned to award JMU next year. King and his team went back to the drawing board.
Freshman in-state students were warned they may see a tuition increase between $0 and $1,000. Sophomore and junior Virginia residents’ tuition could’ve swelled an additional $362 while in-state seniors’ could’ve surged $330. For undergraduate out-of-state students, King’s team originally recommended a tuition increase of $500 for all classes.
King revealed at Friday’s meeting that a week ago his team planned to recommend a $400 tuition hike for all students. Then other Virginia institutions — like VCU and the College of William and Mary — announced their decisions to freeze tuition in light of the pandemic. King said he revised his recommendation to mimic those schools.
The board also discussed additional ways the university is trying to ease students’ heightened economic stress.
JMU offered over 5,000 students emergency aid from Congress’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The university divided up the over $6 million into $1,000 packages. Then, the school gifted aid to students financially impacted by COVID-19 and students whose families are expected to contribute less than $15,000 to their university bill.
While 80 students have declined the offer and some students never responded, 85% of students accepted the award. The aid forfeited by students will be used to help other students in need who’ve filed appeals to be considered for aid. So far, 276 students have appealed, and Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Brad Barnett said more come in every day.
“The ones appealing are laying their hearts out,” Barnett said. “Getting to help them is the most rewarding part of this process.”
JMU is also revitalizing the Madison for Keeps scholarship, which allowed 108 students to remain at the university after the 2009 Great Recession. Now, JMU hopes to help 150 students. The scholarship’s goal is to “help Dukes stay Dukes.”
The Madison for Keeps Scholarship has already raised $550,590 with a little over 1,000 donors. This surpasses the 2009 total of $400,000 that was raised by over 3,800 donors.
A group of patrons — which, among others, includes every Board of Visitors member — agreed to match contributions to Madison for Keeps up to $250,000. Donors hit the target within a day.
Alger said he hopes the fund will reach $750,000 by the end of the month.
As of now, Alger said at the meeting that JMU plans to resume its on-campus, in-person learning and residential operations for the fall of 2020 on time. This is good news for the 5,156 freshmen who’ve submitted their deposit to enroll in the fall. The incoming freshman class has exceeded the board’s enrollment goal by 406 students — defying fears that attendance will be low next year due to the pandemic.
A contingency planning task force is investigating what living, learning and dining arrangements on campus will look like in the fall in the wake of COVID-19. The team’s compiling guidance from public health experts on the best practices for reopening university campuses and over 15,000 survey responses from JMU parents, students, faculty and staff.
“We all know that this fall will not look like any previous fall this campus has ever seen … But we can and must get through this together,” Alger wrote in the email. “It will take all of us. And we can do it.”
Contact Brice Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.