Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.
Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech. Photo by Dwayne Yancey.

The Board of Visitors of Virginia Tech voted today to raise tuition and fees by 4.9% for the 2023-2024 academic year.

The increase can be revisited once the state lawmakers pass amendments to the budget, which could affect funding for the public university. That vote has been delayed since February. 

“Though the state budget process is not yet complete, we believe it is critical we take action now to help students and their families understand college costs before the May 1 acceptance deadline,” university President Tim Sands said in a statement on April 20.

The increase will apply to in-state and out-of-state students. 

Students will pay an additional $208 (8.8% more) for mandatory fees for the upcoming year, bringing the total comprehensive fee to $2,585. 

The comprehensive fee goes toward health services, student activities, transportation programs, wireless access and athletics, and is required for all students — including the 71% of Tech graduate students receiving assistantships. 

Anna Buhle, a medical student serving as graduate student representative on the Board of Visitors, spoke ahead of the Friday vote on tuition and fee increases, though she ultimately voted along with the group to unanimously approve the proposed increases.

Though graduate students on assistantships would not feel the impact of a tuition increase, Buhle acknowledged the BOV has heard from graduate students who say paying the comprehensive fee out-of-pocket often leaves them unable to afford meals. “I believe any increase in fees would continue to harm the already vulnerable population of graduate students,” she said.

The increase could be revised down pending the state budget vote, but in the best-case scenario, the mandatory fee would still increase nearly 7%. 

In February, a task force made up of students, faculty and administrators recommended that the comprehensive fees be paid by the university as part of the standard package for graduate assistantships. 

This year, the fee was $2,376. “This amount is approximately 11% of the average stipend (9 month) across the university,” the report explained. “In other words, graduate assistants would be able to retain a month of salary to use for other expenses.”

The task force found that the cost of living for graduate students in the Blacksburg area was far higher than the minimum stipend the university was paying. The current minimum stipend is $1,679 per month, which adds up to just over $15,000 over a nine-month academic year. 

The group recommended the university raise graduate stipends by about $1,000 per month in order to closely match the cost of living. 

The Board of Visitors received more than 100 comments against raising tuition and fees during a public comment period, including comments from 17 graduate students who cited cost-of-living hardships due to the comprehensive fee. Students packed the room during the BOV’s March meeting, holding signs with messages including, “VT works because we do” and “We demand a living wage.” 

The university is expected to raise assistantship stipends by 5%, pending the state budget vote. That would bring the minimum stipend to about $1,762 per month.

In the presentation to the BOV April 21 by Amy Sebring, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Tech, a slide noted that the anticipated pay increase for grad students “will more than cover the proposed comprehensive fee increase.” 

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at lisa@cardinalnews.org or 540-384-1313.