Self-help: Register to vote in Williamsburg

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September 22, 2011

4:43 PM

Anyone feeling disappointed over the news of the College’s drop to 33rd in the U.S. News and World Report rankings (or still smarting from the fact that America’s hardest classes and prettiest campus have yet to garner us the number one spot we deserve) needs to register to vote in Williamsburg.

While the U.S. News and World Report is a national magazine, and they conduct their rankings using a litany of statistics, the power to affect said rankings may just lie at your local Williamsburg polling station. First allow me to explain why you should even care at all.

Yes, the rankings are flawed. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Evidence hints at a correlation between rankings, the value of your degree or your future earning power. A 2011 report by Payscale, Inc. listed graduates of the College as earning a mid-career median salary of $96,500, which ranks the school 33rd on the list of similar national universities, matching this year’s U.S. News and World Report ranking.

The College is no aberration, either. The Payscale list finds most national universities within a few slots of their U.S. News rankings. I have not done further research to state that correlation claim conclusively; however, both the correlation I have found and common sense indicate that the link is real.
Helping the College and its ranking will in turn help you, even mid-career, long after you leave Williamsburg. Before delving into how voting in local elections now can help the College later, it’s necessary to take a closer look at the rankings.

One of the seven rankings criteria used is financial resources, which is measured as the average amount of money a university spends per student per year. In last year’s U.S. News rankings, the College ranked 31st overall, but only 85th for financial resources. The ability to spend money on students is directly tethered to endowments. Our meager endowment of $540 million (less than one fifth the size of every university in the US News top 12) is plainly working as an anvil on our overall ranking and the value of our degrees.
But don’t give up hope. The College is using bright, talented individuals to do all that it can. In April, the Chief Investment Officer for the W&M Foundation was named Institutional Investor’s Small Endowment Manager of the Year.

To help its ranking, we must help the College with its finances. Before earning our millions to send back to Williamsburg (bolstering alumni giving, another ranking criteria), we can serve the College by protecting what it already has.

While the College works to steadily grow its endowment to a position worthy of a university of its academic caliber, we must protect the operating funds the College receives annually. Two main sources of revenue are routinely in jeopardy: money from students and money from the state.

The tuition and fees we pay every year cover almost half of the College’s operating costs. However, that slice of the pie is constantly threatened by state senators and delegates who try to “fix” our in-state to out-of-state ratio to ensure all their constituents can find a place in Virginia schools. Money from the state comprises only 15 percent of the College’s operating funds, versus 43 percent in 1980. To keep that number from continuing to decrease, yet we must elect local state senators and delegates who will fight for every penny possible, while holding fast to our out-of-state students and the significant financial resources they bring. It is the only way to preserve our earning power while our endowment grows and the College explores new financial models.

On the day we receive our diplomas, we become inextricably bound to the College, for richer or for pooer. Given that, the responsible thing to do is to register in Williamsburg and vote this November for strong voices in both chambers of the Virginia legislature to insure that both we and the College have passionate advocates for years to come.

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