Board approves budget for 2020-21 academic year with modest tuition increase

This story has been updated to include the total tuition cost for the 2020-21 school year. 

Fairfax, Va. – George Mason University’s Board of Visitors today approved a $1.18 billion budget for the 2020-21 academic year that holds the line on spending while making targeted investments to support students and improve their graduation rates.

The budget includes a modest flat tuition increase of $450, applied equally for in-state and out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students, and no increase in mandatory student fees.

The board approved the budget on a 15-1 vote after adding an amendment, which stipulated that Mason should make it a priority to consider reducing tuition if more state or federal funding becomes available.

“This is a ceiling for what we’ll charge, this isn’t the floor,” Rector Tom Davis said of the increase.

The motion also directed the university to consider deferred payment plans for students and increased financial aid.

Visitor Edward Rice cast the dissenting vote, expressing concern about the increase and the wish to see financial projections that did not include a tuition increase.

The tuition increase is significantly lower than what was originally budgeted in the university’s six-year plan. The university adopted a lower tuition increase after holding several listening sessions with students to hear about the impact of the global pandemic and economic crisis.

“The board heard from many of our students and understands that many are experiencing hardships from the crises,” Davis said. “We tried our best to balance those concerns with the fiscal realities we face. After much deliberation, the board agreed that a modest increase equally shared by students was the most equitable and fiscally responsible solution.”

Tuition for in-state undergraduate students will increase from $9,060 for the 2019-2020 academic year to $9,510 for the 2020-21 academic year. Out-of-state undergraduate tuition will increase from $32,520 to $32,970. In-state graduate tuition will increase from $12,144 to $12,593, and out-of-state graduate tuition will increase from $33,456 to $33,906. Student fees remain unchanged at $3,504.

Mason will use the additional tuition funds to make critical investments in student success. This includes investing more in support services for students, including academic coaches and advisors that improve graduation rates and ensure students complete their degrees on time in order to help reduce the cost of their education.

Additional funds in the budget will also be allocated toward financial aid and scholarships, increased spending on efforts to ensure a safe learning environment amid the pandemic recovery, and building online education and technological infrastructure to support virtual learning.

At the same time, Mason faculty and staff have been directed to freeze noncritical hiring, slow spending, defer costs, and eliminate, reduce or delay noncritical expenses as the university considers the pandemic’s financial impact in 2020-21 and the long-term financial health of the university.

The budget also includes state investment for the university’s Tech Talent Initiative, which is essential as Mason is the state’s leading producer of tech talent, as well as additional funds for critical research initiatives.

With more than 38,000 students, Mason is Virginia’s largest and most diverse public research university and greatest driver of enrollment growth. Last year, Mason froze tuition for all undergraduate students. Even with the modest increase, the cost of attending Mason remains considerably less than the cost of attending peer institutions in the region and across Virginia.

“We know that even a small tuition increase can affect our students and their families,” Interim President Anne Holton said. “At the same time, we must make strategic investments to serve our students and keep them on track to graduate. That is how we will emerge stronger from these crises and play a significant role in lifting the region and state economy in the coming years.”

Students with financial need are receiving aid and support from university through the CARES Act, with checks averaging $1,000 or more being dispersed to thousands of students this month. Additional CARES Act funds will be distributed over the summer and into the fall, and assistance will also be available through the Stay Mason Student Support Fund and the COVID Student Emergency Assistance Fund through University Life.

University leadership acted swiftly this spring to protect students and minimize the risk to the community by closing campuses, moving the remainder of the spring semester to virtual learning and mandating telework for all but essential employees.

The board and the administration held multiple virtual listening sessions and town hall discussions with students in April and May, and accepted written comments, before approving the budget for the 2020-21 academic year. The board also met virtually on May 20, pursuant to legislative authorization in light of the pandemic.

At the May 20 meeting, Rector Davis asked university administrators to work with students facing financial hardships. This could include developing payment plans or other ways to help them stay in school and remain on track. He also pledged to revisit the budget decisions this year, particularly to support students, if the state or federal government provides additional funding.

“Like everyone, our students are feeling the impact of this crisis and we want to do everything in our power to help them,” Davis said. “Our goal is to seek more resources for students so they can continue their education and complete their degrees in the most timely manner.”

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 727-580-5723 or

About George Mason University

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 37,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at