Virginia's 39th House District
Vivian's Views: Higher Education
My Commitment to You
Virginia has some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. We must make sure that this excellence continues and that there is room for all qualified students coming from Northern Virginia. All post-high school education must be available based on the student's skill and academic ability -- not on ability to pay -- through financial aid and alternatives to residential universities. Relevant certification and licensure programs need to be expanded.
Over the years, Virginia's excellent higher education system has defined Virginia as not just a sleepy southern state. It is a key element of economic development, for example, biotechnology is a major area of research where Virginia is well-situated, whether in medicine, agriculture, communications, marine science, green energy, or basic science. Indeed, many residents coming to this area chose to live in Virginia because of our superior higher education opportunities and know the economic value of a degree drops if the reputation of the university is allowed to drop. With enlightened stewardship, higher education can continue to move Virginia into eminence.
LACK OF FUNDING
However, support for higher education has been seriously eroded. By the academic year ending in 2015, in-state undergrad tuition and fees at Virginia institutions ranked
- 6th highest in the nation for non-doctoral institutions,
- 13th highest for doctoral/research institutions, and
- 17th highest for community college.
After years of trying to make community college an affordable option, Virginia's tuition and fees are now back to being as expensive compared to other states as they were 20 years ago.
Traditionally, General Assembly policy had been that state funds should cover 75% of the cost for in-state undergrads and 80% for community college students. In 2004, that policy officially changed to in-state, 4-year undergrad students paying not 1/4 but 1/3. (Out-of-state students pay at least 100%.)
Unfortunately, state funding for 4-year schools dropped sharply (in constant dollars) from $10,675 per student in 2000 to just $7,303 in 2009. The harsh reality for families and students throughout the Commonwealth is that, while the official policy that in-state students will pay no more than 1/3 hasn't been changed, in fact, in-state undergraduate students had to pay more than 1/2 the cost of their education in 2014-15. For many this means life-changing debt.
In 2001-02, total charges for an undergraduate living on campus was 32% of an average Virginian's after tax income. That measure of the cost that must be bourne by students and their families has climbed sharply. For 2014-15, it was 47%! I must emphasize it is cuts in state funding that are the major cause of this ever-increasing lack of affordability and, therefore, limited access.
We must restore public funding to Virginia's public colleges and universities. In addition, I believe a portion of any tuition increase that is enacted must always go into increasing the financial assistance available to students.
I applaud the cost-savings of an integrated path for students to complete their first two years in qualified subjects at a community college and, then, be able to complete their degree at a 4-year institution. I also was a strong supporter in 2015 of Virginia (belatedly) joining other states in determining credit for relevant community college courses that should be given for specific military experience. This will enable veterans to earn a degree or certification at less cost and get into skilled jobs faster. Finally, while the need for post-high school education has become ever-more important in gaining meaningful employment, 4-year academic degrees are not the right path for everyone. We must expand licensure and certification programs that are most relevant to employers.