It is no secret that the fiscal crisis in Richmond is dire, demanding drastic correction in order to keep the commonwealth afloat. However, the General Assembly has already gone too far in what has become an all-out assault on the budget of Virginia’s higher education system. If we are to have any hope of maintaining Virginia’s tradition of academic excellence and affordability, Richmond must make a change and begin to think long term when it makes decisions like these in the near future.
What the GA attempted last summer gives a good indication of just where we stand on its list of priorities. As part of the federal stimulus bill, several million dollars were allocated specifically for higher education, but the state shifted those funds into its own general coffers. Immediately resulting in a tuition hike, this was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and — luckily for us — it was illegal. The money has since been returned, although the new tuition rates are likely here to stay.
The most recent misstep comes from deep within former Gov. Tim Kaine’s final budget and aims to shave off about 5 percent from the auxiliary funds of Virginia universities. This unprecedented effort is a matter of public trust; students pay into auxiliary services in the form of student fees, knowing their money will support educational units, not be used to patch the state’s budgetary holes.
Beyond that, fees will have to be raised to make up for the lost funds. Effectively, in passing this legislation, the GA is creating a tax targeting students only, which is neither equitable nor right. Gov. Bob McDonnell must pass an amendment to leave Virginia’s auxiliary funds intact.
All of this brings us to look upon fiscal year 2011-2012 with great concern. Once federal stimulus funds run out, we will again be fully at Richmond’s whim, and at this point no one knows how the College of William and Mary will fare.
Over the last few decades the GA has proven itself willing to under-fund Virginia’s schools. We cannot stand being hobbled by the very body that we should be looking to for support. Richmond must look elsewhere for spending cuts over the next few years, or Virginia’s tradition of academic excellence may become another casualty of the Great Recession.