This column is being written before the results of the election are known. Next week I will comment on the outcome of the election.
I am always interested each election season at the number of candidates for public
office who in their backgrounds say that they, like me, are the first in their family to go to college.
For baby boomers and successive generations, going to college has been the first requirement for future success. At the same time, it is alarming that in the near future many people may find themselves priced out of the market for college.
A July, 2011, report by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) raises serious questions as to whether higher education will remain affordable and accessible as the state contribution to colleges and universities and the federal Recovery Act monies decline.
An Oct. 28 article in Virginia Business, “Finding a Way to Fund Higher Education: Where Will Virginia Get the Money to Produce 100,000 More Colleges Graduates,” puts the issue in perspective with some concrete examples.
About 30 years ago, state funding represented 43 percent of the operating budget of The College of William and Mary, one of the best public colleges in the nation. In 2000 the state provided 28 percent; today the state share is down to about 13 percent.
George Mason University, the largest university in Virginia with a headcount of 32,500, has seen its state support over the last decade dip from 58.9 percent of its revenue to 29 percent.
Across all institutions, state support for higher education is 30 percent lower than in 2001 when adjusted for inflation.
The result of the steady decline of state revenue to colleges and universities has
been, as any parent can tell you, regular increases in tuition and fees. In FY 2012 tuition and fees for undergraduates in Virginia will increase by nearly ten percent. Tuition and mandatory fees for undergraduates is 16th highest among the states that for this year is $9,365.
In contrast, the same fees in Maryland are $8,766 (18th lowest), Tennessee is $6,397 (37th lowest), and North Carolina is $5,741 (40th lowest).
One of the results of the state’s stingy support for higher education has been the
admission of more out-of-state students who pay higher fees that help to
compensate for the decline in state support, according to the Virginia Business article.
On average, out-of-state students pay 159 percent of what it costs to educate them. At the University of Virginia, it is 185 percent; at George Mason 164
percent, and at William and Mary 161 percent. The additional revenue helps the colleges balance their budgets.
The Virginia Business article discusses a proposal to let market forces determine tuition rates. The result would be even higher tuition rates with questionable availability of financial aid for those who cannot afford the higher rates. Such a system would save tax dollars and reduce the state budget but would price many students out of college. Is this the direction we would want the Commonwealth to go?