By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON - Average annual tuition among the state's four-year public colleges for undergraduate West Virginians is increasing about $180, or 2.4%, in the upcoming academic year, according to the state Higher Education Policy Commission.
That's compared to the $300, or 4.2%, increase seen in the now-ending academic year, compared to the prior one.
"It's really pretty terrific," said Sarah Tucker, the top administrator at the HEPC and the state's Community and Technical College System.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved increasing higher education funding for next academic year.
The average 2019-20 annual tuition for undergraduate West Virginians at the four-year schools will be $7,690.
All these tuition figures reflect the cost of tuition and fees required of all students, before scholarships, grants and other cost reductions are taken into account. They don't include fees that only engineering or nursing students must pay, for example, or things like housing and food costs.
West Virginia University's Morgantown campus will have the highest cost: $8,980, an increase of $120, or 1.4%, from the recently concluded academic year.
WVU's Potomac State College in Keyser will have the lowest cost: $5,570 for its bachelor's degree programs, an increase of $70, or 1.3%. Potomac State offers two-year and four-year degrees.
Five of the 11 public four-year schools are raising tuition less than 2%, with Glenville State College ($7,310) and West Virginia State University ($7,710) not raising tuition at all.
WVSU officials said its cost had increased annually since 2006.
WVU Communications Senior Executive Director John Bolt said WVU's 1.4% increase is the lowest such increase WVU has had in at least 20 years.
"I want to be clear that when the state Legislature continues to invest in higher education, that we as institutions should be able to do things like this," WVSU President Anthony Jenkins said last month, when his school's Board of Governors voted to not raise tuition.
Concord University's tuition will increase $170, or 2.2%, to hit $8,050. But the school announced in a Friday news release that West Virginians can get free tuition at the school if they're eligible for the federal Pell Grant for low-income students, enroll full-time, maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average at Concord and enter Concord with at least a 3.0 high school GPA. Students transferring from another college must have a 2.75 college GPA.
"Thanks to West Virginia legislators' reinstatement of higher education funding this year, Concord is able to bridge the financial gap," the news release said.
The highest increases for next academic year, both dollar- and percentage-wise, will be at: Marshall University, which is increasing $280, or 3.5%, to hit $8,410; West Liberty University, which is increasing $310, or 4%, to hit $7,990; and Bluefield State College, which is increasing $430, or 6.1%, to hit $7,490.
Despite the increase, Bluefield State's 2019-20 tuition will be the third lowest among the state's public four-year colleges.
Bluefield State interim President Robin Capehart said 70% of his college's students are eligible for the full federal Pell Grant amount of $6,195.
Capehart said other grants and scholarships further reduce the amount Bluefield State students pay below the "sticker price" of $7,490.
He said the school has already cut half-a-million dollars in administrative salaries and benefits.
He said the tuition increase was still needed to help avoid a deficit and replace the college's aging, retiring faculty with high-quality newcomers, to maintain faculty quality.
"Right now, we were just trying to get our head above water," Capehart said.
Earlier this year, the Bluefield State Board of Governors and the Higher Education Policy Commission's board approved a one-year contract for Capehart that pays him roughly $190,000.
That total includes what he'll get in car and technology stipends, which will be paid to him regardless of whether or not he spends that much on those expenses. That $190,000 doesn't include the value of getting to live in the president's home for free.
Capehart became West Liberty's president in 2007. He left the presidency there in 2015, before he was scheduled to go in front of the state Ethics Commission to face 13 ethics charges related to his use of public resources at the school for his privately owned movie production company.
He admitted to one of the charges in a conciliation agreement with the Ethics Commission; in exchange, the other 12 were dropped. Capehart agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and another $5,000 to reimburse the commission for the cost of the investigation.
Capehart said he's applied for the permanent president position at Bluefield State.
Here's a list of the tuition increases for West Virginia undergraduates:
n Bluefield State College: $7,490, up $430, or 6.1%
n Concord University: $8,050, up $170, or 2.2%
n Fairmont State University: $7,740, up $220, or 3%
n Glenville State College: $7,310, no increase
n Marshall University: $8,410, up $280, or 3.5%
n Shepherd University: $7,780, up $240, or 3.1%
n West Liberty University: $7,990, up $310, or 4%
n West Virginia State University: $7,710, no increase
n West Virginia University (Morgantown): $8,980, up $120, or 1.4%
n WVU Institute of Technology (Beckley): $7,560, up $100, or 1.3%
n WVU Potomac State College (Keyser, bachelor's degrees): $5,570, up $70, or 1.3%