Look outside the state

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February 12, 2010

12:35 AM

This week, the General Assembly did us a good turn — well, they did not do us a bad one — in tabling a frivolous, misconceived bill that would have increased the ratio of in- to out-of-state students in Virginia universities. Now, it’s time for the GA to go one step further: If Richmond continues to underfund us, then it must give us greater freedom to bring in more students from out of state — and their desperately needed money.

We’ve called for this change before, and it remains the right thing to do. Currently, because of disparate tuition rates, two-thirds of the College of William and Mary’s tuition revenue comes from one third of its student body: the out-of-state students. Every percentage point in their direction means thousands more much-needed dollars for the College at no additional cost.

We doubt the GA will be eager to make such a switch, but it seems the only fair thing to do. State support for the College has plummeted over the last two decades, such that the College is now paying the majority of its own day-to-day bills. And yet, the state has given up very little control throughout the same period, leaving the school with very few options when money is short. This will be politically difficult, yes, but for a higher education system that aspires to excellence, some painful politicking is preferable to a gradual decline in standards.

And students from other states offer the state more than just dollars. While other states experience a brain drain, the commonwealth can look forward to the brain gain that results when talented out-of-staters opt to settle here after graduation. Virginia can increase its base of well-educated community leaders and business owners while easily and cheaply preserving the top-tier character of its universities. Sounds pretty good to us.

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