This is part two of our Back to School Week series. Check out part one, where we focused on a program at George Mason University that helps first generation students transition to college.

As Virginia undergraduates move back to campus this week, it’ll be the first time in nearly two decades that most of them won’t be paying more than they did last year. 

The Commonwealth has seen a 79% increase in the average cost of public college tuition in the past ten years, but thanks to additional funding from the General Assembly this year, all 15 public colleges in Virginia maintained their existing in-state tuition rates for undergraduates for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Average costs

The average tuition, including mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates at four-year public colleges is now $12,836, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). This marks a $155 (1.2% increase) from last year, owing to the $155 increase in “mandatory non-educational and general fees.” 

Meanwhile, average room and board charges total $11,000, an increase of $367 (3.5%). When all costs are taken into account, in-state undergraduate students attending four-year schools will pay an average of $24,699 this year, an increase of $543 (2.2%) from last year, the lowest percentage increase in nearly twenty years.

Community colleges also saw their tuition rates frozen, and the average total cost of Virginia’s community colleges is now $4,620 — the same as 2018-2019. 

Most expensive schools

Despite that seemingly positive news, multiple studies have found that Virginia public colleges are still among the nation’s most expensive.

How expensive are they, exactly? We put together a chart, from most expensive to least expensive, using data from the SCHEV.

InstitutionTotal Cost for 2019-2020 (including all fees and room and board)
College of William and Mary$36,554
Virginia Military Institute$28,884
University of Virginia$28,335
Christopher Newport University$26,684
Virginia Commonwealth University$25,419
Longwood University$25,188
George Mason University$24,269
University of Mary Washington$23,940
James Madison University$23,144
Virginia Tech$23,033
Old Dominion University$21,888
University of Virginia – Wise$21,003
Radford University$20,987
Virginia State University$20,698
Norfolk State University$20,466

For those attending private colleges or universities in Virginia, the costs can be much higher, though. Here’s a look at the total cost of attending some of Virginia’s best known private universities:

InstitutionTotal Cost for 2019-2020 (including all fees and room and board)
Washington and Lee University$73,900
University of Richmond$69,750
University of Lynchburg$52,140
Shenandoah University~$43,000 – $45,000
Hampton University$40,390
Liberty University~$33,290 – $36,950 (excluding course fees)

Best value

The Princeton Review ranked the University of Virginia as the best value in the state and tenth best in the nation, while the University of Richmond was the only other school to make the organization’s top 50 nationwide.  

Niche.com ranked Washington and Lee University as the state’s best value, with the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and the University of Virginia rounding out the top 3.

The aptly titled bestvalueschools.com awarded the University of Virginia its top spot, with the College of William and Mary and Washington and Lee University coming in second and third, respectively.

And lastly, CollegeCalc.com slotted William and Mary at number one, the University of Virginia at two, and VMI at three.

Affording college

As the cost of Virginia’s public colleges have risen, the economic disparity between those with a bachelor’s degree and those without one became even more pronounced. According to the SCHEV, Virginians with a bachelor’s degree will earn $2.3 million in their lifetime, compared to only $1.3 million for those who have only a high school diploma.

The economic benefits of a college degree are clear, but as the cost of college has skyrocketed, it’s forced more and more Virginia students to take student loans and fall deep into debt just to have a chance at obtaining a Bachelor’s degree.

Fifty-six percent of college seniors who graduated from Virginia’s public or private nonprofit colleges in 2017 took on student loan debt, owing an average of $29,887 each, according to a 2018 report from The Institute for College Access & Success, an independent nonprofit that works to make college more affordable. 

In 2019, the General Assembly finally started to address the high costs of obtaining a college education, and as tens of thousands of college students begin classes this week, they’ll certainly be hoping that lawmakers continue their efforts to make higher education in Virginia more affordable.