Virginia Tech Board of Visitors votes on tuition rise, Intelligent Infrastructure initiative

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Virginia Tech students and incoming students will be paying a little more next year in tuition and mandatory fees. This following a meeting Monday of the university's Board of Visitors.

For in state students, it's a 2.9% increase, or $378. That brings the total cost to to $13,230 annually.

For out of state students it's a little more, at 3.5% increase. That's an additional $1,039, totaling $31,014 annually.

Room and board charges will increase by 3.2 percent, or $266 per year, to a total of $8,690 annually.

That 2.9 percent increase for in state students, which matches last year's bump, is the smallest raise since the 2001-2002 school year, despite the school losing $8.6 million from the state budget.

Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands explained, "Affordability is an important element of what we offer to Virginia students and, of course, we want the degrees to be a very high quality. They are not, we want them to continue to increase so we're going to have to figure out how to do it but we're game, we're ready to go, and we'll make it work."

But it's some Virginia families that will need to make it work, as almost $400 more per year can be too expensive.

University Spokesperson Mark Owczarski said, "We'll have over $40 million in institutional support to help lower income families, low and middle income families, receive the financial aid that they need to attend Virginia Tech."

The $49 million is an increase of $3.7 million from last year.

In addition to the state budget reduction, that state will require Virginia Tech to pay most of the increases in health insurance costs and faculty and staff compensation next year, resulting in approximately $9 million in new costs to the university.

Tuition and fees is the primary source of the university’s Educational and General Program (E&G) budget. In the current fiscal year, for example, tuition and fees from both in-state and out-of-state students accounted for $474 .5 million (or 70 percent) of the $683 million total E&G budget. The state provided $166.5 million (or 24 percent) towards the $ E&G budget and an additional $42 million (or six percent) came from other sources.

Virginia Tech’s Funds for the Future program protects low- and middle-income students from increases in tuition and fees and provide 100 percent protection for returning students with a family income below $75,000. Returning students with a family income of less than $100,000 are eligible for partial protection from future tuition increases.

The university’s Presidential Scholarship Program will provide full four-year scholarships to 85 incoming Virginia students next year, an increase of 30 recipients this year.

In addition to university-funded support, Virginia Tech students received $107 million in grant aid and scholarship support last fiscal year.

Virginia Tech will continue the 10 percent tuition and fee discount for summer session and winter session courses to help students complete degrees at an accelerated pace during non-traditional times. This will be the fourth year such a discount is in place.

When adding tuition and mandatory fees with average room and board, the total cost in 2016-17 for a Virginia undergraduate student living on campus will be $21,920 and for a non-resident living on campus will be $39,704.

Next year, tuition and fees for resident graduate students will rise by $540 to $15,072 and for non-residents by $1,046 to $28,810.

The total annual cost to Virginia and Maryland veterinary students will be $24,197, an increase of $580, and non-residents will pay $51,996, an increase of $1,243.

The other big decision from the Board of Visitors is to launch planning for the university's $78.45 million Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-Centered Communities Destination Area initiative.

“The Intelligent Infrastructure project is essential to Virginia Tech’s effort to build research and teaching capacity by leveraging our leading programs in smart construction, autonomous vehicle, ubiquitous mobility, and smart energy systems,” said President Sands at the Monday afternoon meeting. “These industries are developing at tremendous speed, and this generosity will make it possible for Virginia Tech to remain in the lead and advance even further.”

The board approved a resolution authorizing $6 million to be used for the planning.

It's all thanks to five gifts totaling $25 million that can be used right now to start building new facilities for research.

“Drawing $25 million in private support is quite an endorsement for the direction President Sands is charting for the university,” Board of Visitors Rector Jim Chapman said.

“Virginia Tech is a national leader in construction education, but today’s fast-moving technology demands a broader view,” said John Lawson (geophysics ’75), who is president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company, one of several principal donors to the project, and a namesake of Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction. “By combining knowledge of smart construction with expertise in autonomous vehicles and energy systems, Virginia Tech can be the world’s leading source of expertise in intelligent infrastructure. Thanassis’ ability to recognize this opportunity, and his hard work to bring it to this milestone point, has impressed and inspired me.”

Owczarski explained, "Some of these facilities will look like traditional Hokie stone clad buildings, some of these facilities will be off into the woods, for example a drone park and other things to test autonomous vehicles in mountainous, urban, and rural settings."

President Sands said it's about much more than just growing in buildings and space.

He said, "It's going to actually make our operation more efficient because what we're doing is sharing resources, sharing facilities, and we'll be able to track talent that maybe wouldn't have been to track before."

Sands and Owczarski both said the initiative would have eventually happened without the $25 million in gifts. This just means they can start now.

Board of Visitors approval would clear the way to begin work on the $50 million complex and other projects projected to total $28.45 million, including an Autonomy Park, Autonomy Study Corridor, and Smart Design and Construction Park. The university will also expand research and teaching capacity in smart energy systems using the intelligent infrastructure facilities in Blacksburg.

But it's only a start. Virginia Tech is counting on more donors to give private gifts following these recent ones to get the remaining $53.45 million.

Intelligent Infrastructure for Human-Centered Communities is one of five interdisciplinary destination areas established at Virginia Tech. Rooted in the Beyond Boundaries vision that is driving the university’s long range planning, destination areas unite faculty, students, and industry partners from different fields to address complex problems of global significance. Organizing around major issues, rather than traditional academic disciplines, is a strategic departure from typical higher-education practice. The intent is to advance Virginia Tech as a global destination for talent in key, transdisciplinary areas of strength.

The Intelligent Infrastructure and Construction Complex is earmarked for land alongside Perry Street in Virginia Tech’s North Academic Precinct. Along with Lawson, several industry leaders have donated $25 million combined.

“I’m impressed by the scope of the president’s and provost’s vision for intelligent infrastructure at Virginia Tech,” said Brett Hitt, co-president of HITT Contracting Inc. “Virginia Tech is thinking big about where the world’s infrastructure needs are heading, and so is HITT Contracting. We see ourselves as natural partners.”

Hitt’s father and the company’s chairman, Russell Hitt, was one of the project’s early supporters. In thanking all donors to the project, Sands stressed how critical philanthropy is to Virginia Tech’s global position.

“It is inspiring to have people such as Brett Hitt, Russell Hitt, John Lawson, and other industry leaders show their support with such extraordinary gifts,” Sands said. “With our visionary framework for the future, supported by a strong reputation and transformative philanthropy, this is our opportunity to establish Virginia Tech, with our partners, as the global leader in intelligent infrastructure research and education.”

Rikakis said scaling up to provide new living learning models in academic areas of excellence will transform the Virginia Tech student, uniquely preparing a next-generation workforce.

“We are ready to take the next step on a major scale,” Rikakis said. “Being ready to seek endorsement from the Board of Visitors, having secured the commitment of internal and external partners, is exciting. We are uniquely positioned to take a nationally leading, systems approach to 21st century infrastructure, since we have strengths at each component and a long tradition of connecting components and overcoming boundaries in order to advance the human condition. Success will accelerate our other destination areas as well, enabling Virginia Tech to redefine how a research university engages the world.”

Also at the meeting, the board honored two College of Engineering faculty members, Dushan Boroyevich, the American Electric Power Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Marc Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, by appointing them University Distinguished Professors.

The University Distinguished Professorship is Virginia Tech’s pre-eminent faculty rank to recognize faculty whose teaching and research has attracted global recognition. Individual stories on Boroyevich and Edwards will be published in Virginia Tech News later this week.

In other news, the board approved a resolution to establish a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering, effective this fall. Students who complete this degree will be able to apply engineering analysis and design to clinical applications that will ultimately improve our quality of life.

A resolution calling for the creation of a School of Plant and Environmental Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was also approved by the board. The new school will bring together the disciplines from the departments of crop and soil environmental sciences; plant pathology, physiology, and weed science; and horticulture into a single academic unit to increase the interdisciplinary impact of teaching, research, and extension programs in plant and environmental sciences.

An in-depth story on the proposed school will be published Friday in Virginia Tech News.

The board approved a resolution to establish compensation for graduate assistants for the 2017-18 academic year. Virginia Tech will advance the stipend scale by providing a base stipend increase of 2 percent. The university will also pay 88 percent of the annual premium cost of the basic health insurance plan.

On Monday afternoon, the board announced the selection of the 2017-18 student representatives. Seyi Olusina, of Beaverdam, Virginia, a junior majoring in human nutrition, food, and exercise science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will be the undergraduate student representative. Brett Netto, of Roanoke, Virginia, a doctoral degree student in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, will be the graduate student representative. Olusina and Netto will serve one-year terms beginning July 1.

During the full board meeting Monday afternoon, board members observed a moment of silence in memory of the 32 students and scholars who were taken from their families and the Virginia Tech community on April 16, 2007. Virginia Tech will observe its annual Day of Remembrance April 14-16; information on commemorative events can be found on the We Remember website.

In addition to the two University Distinguished Professor appointments, the board approved resolutions appointing five faculty members to endowed professorships, eight faculty members were honored with emeritus status. Individual stories on each of these appointments and honors will be published in Virginia Tech News beginning next week.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors will be June 4-5 in Blacksburg.

Portions of this article were contributed to by Virginia Tech press releases.