New support from the General Assembly will allow Virginia Tech to provide a one-time rebate to students, along with additional pay increases for faculty, staff and graduate student workers.
The university’s board of visitors agreed Wednesday to approve a $275 tuition rebate to full-time students, to be applied to their accounts for spring 2024. Full-time students will also receive a rebate of $20 for the 2023-2024 mandatory comprehensive fee, and between $19 and $32 as a room and board rebate.
Part-time students will receive tuition relief of $15 per credit hour.
The rebate is possible due to additional funding the state university received when the Virginia General Assembly approved its amended budget, which was signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Sept. 14. Virginia Tech is receiving an additional $9.2 million to go toward reducing student costs, and an additional $3.1 million toward student financial aid.
“The final state budget was very supportive of higher education and our state employee workforce, and university leadership and the board felt it was important to focus the state’s additional investment in Virginia Tech directly on our faculty, staff, and students,” Amy Sebring, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said ahead of the vote.
Tech increased tuition for 2023-24 by 4.9%, and mandatory fees by 8.8%, at its April board of visitors meeting, with the caveat that additional state support would warrant revisiting the need for those increases.
Though the board engaged in some discussion about whether a $275 rebate would be meaningful for students, Rector Ed Baine said, “There are many families, many students, who are making decisions every week about where to spend their next dollar.”
The university launched the Virginia Tech Advantage initiative in 2022 to boost accessibility and affordability, Mark Owczarski, associate vice president of communications and marketing, said in an email.
“We have talked with many, many students over the past year and have extensively studied the impact of financial barriers, both big and small, on our students,” he said. “What we have been told by our students is that the impact of, for example, an unforeseen $100 cost or a $100 savings can be the difference between failure or success.”
A few state colleges provided rebates to students in fall 2022, following a request from Youngkin to keep tuition flat. The University of Virginia, which had already authorized a tuition increase, gave each in-state undergraduate student a $690 rebate to make up for a 4.7% tuition increase for the academic year. In-state students at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise received a $182 credit in light of the 3% tuition increase there. George Mason University made a similar move, giving a $285 credit to undergrads.
Instead of a rebate, Tech offered one-time scholarships to in-state students to offset its own tuition increase.
The university will also increase compensation by 2% for faculty and staff, effective in December, to supplement the 5% compensation increase for state employees in the original biennial state budget. That initial increase was effective in June.
The additional 2% will also apply to graduate students who work for the university as teaching or research assistants.
In addition, the university adjusted the compensation schedule to raise the minimum pay for graduate assistants — who typically receive free tuition and a monthly stipend in exchange for teaching or conducting research related to their course of study — by about $600 per month. A report released by a university task force on graduate student compensation in February revealed that 92% of students on assistantships in 2022-23 were paid less than the cost of living for the Blacksburg area.
The graduate student senate and the new Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union have been pushing for the school to continue raising pay for graduate assistants so they can meet their basic needs, especially those who aren’t allowed to make outside income while they’re studying at Tech.
Some students have faced challenges ensuring they get their increased stipends since the boost took effect in June, said Rachel Maizel, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. An August survey conducted by the body found that nearly 20% of respondents hadn’t begun to see the stipend increases they were promised.
Owczarski said that 2,253 graduate assistants received stipend increases of 4.9% or more this fall, out of a total 2,641. Two hundred twenty-eight students didn’t qualify for an increase, and the remaining 160 are being reviewed by the university.
Maizel has asked the university to audit the last three years of graduate assistant raises to ensure that increases have been allocated correctly. But a response signed by graduate school Dean Aimee Suprenant on Sept. 28 declined to share data regarding paid stipends, claiming it would violate student privacy laws.
Maizel said she’s glad that the university is looking into the accounts of a small number of graduate students who haven’t received their anticipated pay increases for this academic year, but she says Tech’s resistance to transparency in monitoring its payment system is frustrating.
The Graduate and Professional Student Senate would also like Tech to share data for summer funding for graduate students, which is separate from most assistantships. “We’re going to have to keep up on them,” Maizel said. “To their credit, Tech is investigating now, only after months of advocating and pushing for it.”