Recently, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that economic growth rose to an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the final quarter of 2010. Despite these promising numbers, states all across the country are still battling budget crises, which have led many legislatures to cut deep into higher education funding in hopes of eliminating skyrocketing budget deficits. The state of Virginia is no exception. As of yet, students have been forced to shoulder more of the financial responsibility as state funds continue to dwindle.
On January 17th, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the “Top Jobs of the 21st Century” legislation in an attempt to combat the recent spike in tuition at Virginia’s institutions of higher education. The plan calls for 50 million dollars to allow for the commonwealth to issue an additional 100,000 undergraduate degrees over the next 15 years. A fund would also be set aside to prevent sudden increases in tuition similar to hose in recent years. McDonnell hopes to place emphasis on high-demand fields such as healthcare to increase employment and tax revenue. According to McDonnell, a Weldon Cooper Center study conducted for the Virginia Business Higher Education Council “shows that every one dollar currently invested in Virginia’s public higher education system yields thirteen dollars in increased economic output.” Naturally, any investment in Virginia’s educational institutions will provide a handsome return for the state. College graduates will earn higher incomes and generate more tax revenue for the state.
On the surface, this sounds like a win-win situation. The increased funding will help combat rising tuition costs at the College of William and Mary and increase affordability for those in lower income brackets. I will admit that at first I was completely on board with McDonnell’s new initiatives. And with the information I have presented thus far, who wouldn’t be? The catch comes in the stipulations for funding.
McDonnell’s plan emphasizes an expansion in undergraduate diplomas. In other words, the legislation calls for enrollment-based funding. Under, this legislation, the University of Virginia “is poised to add nearly 1,000 new spaces for in-state students on university grounds.” The governor wants to reward the institutions that expand their student populations to meet his goal of 100,000 additional degrees in 15 years.
At the College we pride ourselves on being a small, intimate community. I cannot walk to class or grab a bite to eat without running into multiple people I know. According to McDonnell, the bill would allow Virginia schools to stay atop the national rankings. Yet, the U.S. News and World Report ranked the College number five for “commitment to teaching —” and a large factor in this ranking is the low student to faculty ratio. McDonnell’s plan strives to increase the size of the College’s student body, thereby raising that ratio.
The College is already pushing its limits on student capacity — and on-campus housing is quite indicative of that situation. Being “bumped” from the housing lottery is one of the primary downsides of attending the College. Adding more students would simply intensify this issue.
The governor should consider the ramifications of his plan. The incentives sacrifice quality for quantity. Funding should be to individual institutions based on their particular missions and goals. An alternative would be to provide merit-based scholarships, which are currently quite minimal at the College. This would allow the College to providing a personalized education through a low student to faculty ratio, while increasing affordability for students with exemplary academic performances. Institutions like U.Va. may be willing to add new students in accordance with the governor’s plan, but I hope the College will not compromise its values to gain a few bucks.