Staff Editorial: Tough budget choices

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September 7, 2007

3:40 AM

Eighteen months removed from Governor Tim Kaine’s 2006 Charter Day address, in which the newly elected governor called education “the single most important domestic public priority” for the state of Virginia, the College has been informed that it must cut the state portion of its budget by 7.5 percent. This $3.64 million decrease is incredibly disappointing news for the College, which is already stretched dangerously thin on faculty salaries and academic departmental expenditures.

p. Kaine, who once wondered “why state funding for [Virginia] colleges and universities ranked so low,” may have answered his own question. The brunt of the burden has fallen on the shoulders of Virginia’s top three public institutions of higher learning — the College, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.

p. Now the College must quickly decide how to cut its budget to meet Richmond’s demands. Proposals have included sweeping cuts to the various colleges, including the Mason School of Business, College of Arts and Sciences and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, as well as a tuition surcharge which would tack on an additional $500 per student for the spring semester. Other possibilities include cutting salaries for the president, provost and other administrative officials, and cutting budgets to auxiliary services, such as parking, IT and meal plans.

p. It is imperative that faculty salaries and funding for the various colleges remain untouched. The College already suffers from a low faculty retention rate, and further cuts in this area would be detrimental to students and faculty, as well as to the College’s reputation as a top-tier university.

p. Recent tuition increases make the possible surcharge extremely unappealing, but, in this case, a slight raise in tuition seems to be inevitable. We recognize that for some students, additional hundreds of dollars in tuition may make the prospect of attending the College difficult, but the changes would only be temporary and the College could counter these changes by stepping up efforts on financial aid. Salary cuts for College President Gene Nichol and Provost Geoffrey Feiss are also pragmatic temporary solutions, and we hope that they are welcomed by each for the sake of students.

p. While this news seems grim — and the solutions do not appear to be much better — there are several valuable lessons that the College can learn from this situation. The vast majority of the College’s funding is still the result of private donations, returns from the endowment fund and other non-state sources. Overall funding from the state as a percentage of the College’s total budget has been slowly decreasing in recent years, and these ongoing trends should inspire Nichol and others to intensify fundraising efforts. This will assure that the College can counter future budget cuts, and would also provide essential financial aid resources for students who could not afford a temporary tuition increase.

p. Nichol’s recent efforts to make the College more accessible to low-income students may be jeopardized by these budget cuts. The lack of state funding could also make the College less attractive to prospective students, thus it becomes even more necessary that the College seek other sources of funding. It would be wise for the College to rely less on Richmond, particularly in light of the recent budget cuts.

p. Kaine finds himself in a very tough position. By state law, Virginia cannot run a budget deficit, so it is understandable that Richmond must cut state funding across the board. But it is the reprehensible idea of cutting education — the public education that Kaine supposedly held so dear in 2006 — that is most disturbing. No solution will be easy, and no answer that involves making education less affordable should be permanent, but the College community must face whatever changes the administration enacts with courage and conviction.

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