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UWA Trustees approve tuition increase

The University of West Alabama Board of Trustees approved at its quarterly meeting on June 5 a 4.5 percent increase of tuition, both undergraduate and graduate. The increase changes undergraduate on-campus tuition from $3,643 to $3,807. Despite this increase, UWA remains in the lower one-fourth of the price range for peer institutions.

“This tuition increase was approved in an effort to continue providing quality education and career opportunities, while also increasing the number of academic offerings to our students,” said UWA President Ken Tucker. “Our ability to offer a wide range of educational opportunities ultimately enhances the number of students who find gainful employment upon degree completion. We are sending students into the workforce with training, credentials, and an overall educational experience that prepares them for successful careers.”

Alabama’s public universities that have increased tuition this year have done so by a range of two percent to five percent. Depending on the tuition dollar amount, even a two percent increase on an already-higher tuition is still likely to be a greater increase in dollars than UWA’s already low tuition and its 4.5 percent increase.

“We also take into consideration our student fees, and our fees are consistently lower than most of our peer institutions,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, the proposed budget that has been approved for the coming year included a “bare bones” increase in tuition to help offset significant hikes in insurance premiums, and in operations and maintenance.

“We have strived for a balanced budget, and in order to continue to provide the quality academics and workforce programs that we offer, an increase in our primary revenue source is necessary, and this falls in line with other aspects of our economy,” Tucker said. “When the costs associated with providing any product or service increases, the cost of that product or service must also increase in order to maintain financial viability.”

The expected revenue gain from the tuition increase, according to Tucker, offsets only a fraction of the increased fixed costs associated with operating the University.

“Our healthcare premiums alone have increased by almost a million dollars, so the increased revenue from tuition will cover only a little over half of that obligation,” he explained. The University employs nearly 500 faculty and staff members and is obligated for payroll increases that result from longevity, increased credentials, and promotions.

The University has also increased its scholarship offerings in recent years, providing additional opportunities for qualifying students some relief from financial the burdens of higher education.

“Scholarships are also a cost to the university,” Tucker said, “but we want to help families financially as much as possible while also recruiting and retaining a strong base of superior students. We also want to reward students’ academic achievement, athletic ability, and leadership skills. We are working to increase scholarships by way of fundraising, which can offset the costs of scholarships, but there are still associated costs that the University must absorb in order to continually increase the quality and sustainability of our institution.”

The need for a tuition increase has also been prompted in part by decreased state funding since the 2008 recession. All of Alabama’s public universities were level funded this past year. This, combined with expected revenues before the board-approved tuition increase, would have resulted in UWA’s offerings being underfunded by approximately $400,000. The increase in tuition is expected to cover that deficit.

“Our administration, faculty, and staff have played an active role in helping prepare for the coming year’s budget, and we have taken into consideration all spending and expenses that could be trimmed, from travel to hiring and even to more efficient utility operations,” Tucker said. “We are confident that we are acting as good stewards of the revenues the University receives, and we will do all that we can to keep the cost of a quality education at UWA as low as possible.”

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, June 14, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)