Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced legislation Jan. 17 that could boost state funding to increase the number of degrees awarded by Virginia state universities.
McDonnell expects the Top Job Higher Education Opportunity Act to make state universities more affordable. Over the next 15 years, this shift in affordability could result in an additional 100,000 degrees granted by Virginia schools. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have displayed support for the new legislation.
“I think it’s fair to say that Virginia already has among the best public and private university systems in America,” McDonnell said at an afternoon press conference.
After more than six months of work, hopes are high that the education plan will also increase graduation rates and online educational opportunities in Virginia, as well as utilize college facilities year round.
“It is something that young people of Virginia will appreciate for decades to come,” McDonnell said.
Other state politicians joined McDonnell at the press conference, including the four sponsors of the legislation as well as Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson.
“This is a monumental step in the history of the Commonwealth and the role of education, both public and private,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s remarks were not all positive, however. He stressed a dire need for improvement in the American education system.
“The United States and Germany are the only two industrialized nations where the generation before us may be more educated than the generation that’s following,” he said.
Studies have shown that a rise in the number of college graduates could have a positive impact on the economy. The Weldon Cooper Center, with the University of Virginia, has suggested that every dollar invested in Virginia higher education may result in a $13 economic output.
“We are beginning to work our way out [to] exit a very difficult period in Virginia,” McDonnell said.
The proposed education plan calls for enrollment-based funding. A fund would also be set aside to prevent sudden increases in tuition. According to McDonnell, college tuitions have doubled over the past 10 years.
According to McDonnell, $50 million has been budgeted for the act, $13 million of which will go toward student financial aid. McDonnell stated that currently, only 38 percent of Virginia students can attend in-state colleges.
“There are very few places in the state that I don’t hear from young people or their parents that they want to have better access to get into a Virginia college,” McDonnell said.
Effects of the new legislation are already apparent. U.Va. has plans to add 1,000 spaces for in-state students.
“I see us moving in the right direction,” Robinson said.