College finances like mac and cheese — mediocrity is not an option

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December 1, 2009

1:59 AM

In 1836, the College of William and Mary was desperate. The Board of Visitors wrote a letter to the Virginia legislature recounting, rather pathetically, the Commonwealth’s diminished support for the College. During the ensuing years, the College offered only one regular class, became insolvent and risked losing its charter. Students and faculty rallied around Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, the College’s interim and then-soon-to-be-permanent president.

In 1979 the Commonwealth funded 43 percent of the College’s budget while they now supply a paltry 14 percent. State funding has gone down 32 percent in the last 18 months — meanwhile, the College shuns out-of-state students willing to pay four times what the College is able to charge in-state students. Common sense tells the College to abandon the Commonwealth. One pesky problem remains; the Commonwealth owns the College. It owns James Blair Hall, Alan B. Miller Hall and the Wolf Law Library as much as it owns the Capitol Building. We need a strategy. I’m tired of Richmond giving the College lemons and expecting it to make lemonade.

Let’s go. Last year, 35 students boarded a bus as part of the Student Assembly-sponsored “Road to Richmond,” where students directly engaged representatives with civic vigor. This year, Jan. 26, let’s bring 350. We need numbers to convince Richmond to loosen its grip on the College’s budget.
Let’s write. Early next semester, the SA will provide interested students with stationery, stamps, representatives’ addresses and a summary of the College’s finances.

Let’s remind the General Assembly that increased tuition is an investment. I spoke against last week’s tuition increase because of its timing, but I understand that the increase was necessary to maintain the College’s high academic standards. BOV member John Charles Thomas quipped, “If you run a business and charge below cost, you go out of business, correct? I want to make sure.”

I present the consumer standpoint. Have you struggled between name brand Pop-Tarts and generic toaster pastries? I have. I pick the toaster pastries. I’m willing to bet they taste the same, and I save 55 cents. I shell out serious currency, however, for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I’m not willing to bet on macaroni and cheese. Bad macaroni and cheese is really bad, always watery, not very cheesy. What am I getting at?
Don’t treat your education like I treat aisle G32 at Target; it’s not worth the risk. Go with the name brand. Keep the College — and your legacy — strong. The investment will guarantee the College does not slip into mediocrity and stands tall next to Georgetown University where students pay $40,000 a year in tuition. If we aren’t willing to invest in the College, why should Richmond?

Let’s remind the GA that admitting out-of-state students keeps in-state tuition low and the quality of education high. The College needs more money to compete, and the Commonwealth has said, with certainty, that it will not provide that money. The College’s only options are to admit more out-of-state students or increase in-state tuition. If the College does neither we will watch the College’s U.S. News ranking plummet.

Let’s give as alumni. Assuming the College remains great, your diploma will be worth something. When you have Oprah Winfrey money, give billions; until then, just give. The U.S. News rankings are partly based on the percentage of alumni that give, regardless of the amount. The College also depends on gifts to fund scholarships for students who cannot afford increased tuition. The College should not, and will not, sacrifice the composition or quality of its student body based on financial problems.
Let’s thank President Taylor Reveley and his staff. The president’s office is the emergency generator that one might expect to supply limited power for a limited period, but miraculously powers the entire College every year at full strength.

Years after the College faced losing its charter, it readied to celebrate its return to greatness by welcoming former U.S. President and alumnus John Tyler to Charter Day 1859. In the early morning hours of Feb. 8, the College’s main building caught fire. President Ewell helped students from the building before it burned to the ground. The College community, by working together, quickly scrounged enough money to rebuild. Many consider this the College’s finest hour amd I say if we remind the GA that the College is a public school, we might just afford to have a couple more.

E-mail Charles Crimmins at [email protected]

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