Over the past 30 years, state funding has dropped from 43 percent to 13 percent of the College of William and Mary’s operating budget. As a possible solution, College President Taylor Reveley has suggested raising in-state tuition and basing it on the market.
In a Washington Post editorial, blogger Peter Galuszka argued that Reveley’s proposal “could help clear the way to privatizing Virginia’s precious public university gems. There’s a strong undercurrent, especially among privatization-loving conservatives, to extract state funding entirely and make the schools private.”
Under Reveley’s proposal, some of the increased revenue from higher in-state tuition would go toward financial aid. Taking a different side of the argument, a writer for the same blog criticized this part of the proposal as a “wealth-distribution scheme … from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
I doubt that Reveley will pursue a policy of either extreme right-wing privatization or some sort of communist redistribution of wealth. I especially doubt that he will pursue both of these simultaneously.
Instead, Reveley is taking a very practical approach to a very divisive problem. Of course it would be nice if the state did not continuously lower the College’s funding, but Reveley cannot control state funding. What he can control are the College’s policies, and as the state is proving to be unreliable, he must use that control in order to stop our dependence on the state.
It seems simple, but take a moment to think of all the public figures you know who have had to deal with an unpopular issue. Generally, people in this situation advocate for a popular solution that has little to no basis in reality — consider the many proposals in the national debt debate. Incidently, the University of Virginia is addressing the issue by advocating that the state give Virginia colleges more funding. If this does not happen — as it most likely will not — U.Va. will not have a clear plan to keep itself running smoothly in the future.
Reveley does have a plan, even if it isn’t ideal. Student debt is a problem, as is the widespread inaccessibility of a college education. As U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech Tuesday, “The difficulty of reducing the price of college and student debt cannot become a discussion-ending excuse for inaction.” If there are ways to increase financial productivity and efficiency, we should pursue them. What we should not do is advocate solutions that will never exist, ignore realities, or fail to put forth potentially controversial but tangible ideas for discussion. In this respect, Reveley has certainly succeeded.