The Student Assembly’s annual Road to Richmond event gave students the opportunity to lobby state legislators on behalf of the College. This could not have come at a better time, as the Virginia General Assembly debates how it will cover a $2.4 billion shortfall. For the sake of the College’s future, students need to make themselves heard. But the General Assembly needs to prioritize the improvement of public higher education.
What makes public higher education so important is its affordability for middle-class families, at both the undergraduate and, in particular, the graduate level. The College’s graduate students will soon comprise many of Virginia’s most essential workers as well as the investigators who will further our understanding of politics, international relations, psychology, sociology, religion and history. Our graduate students deserve more opportunities for financial aid and to avoid the debt that often comes with continued study; that same debt will stifle innovation and risk-taking, limiting the choices of future Virginians.
A stronger commitment to public higher education also means a stronger commitment to its professors. The bedrock of any great university is the quality of its professors, and we have some of the best in the world. U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks the College number one in undergraduate teaching for a public university. Our professors are as passionately devoted to their research as they are to their students; but compared to schools of its caliber, the College pays its professors poorly. It is within the state’s power to give professors better salaries and benefits; doing so will keep our professors from finding positions elsewhere.
Furthermore, the state needs to look out for the well-being of its students. The College has made vast improvements to its academic buildings, due in no small part to the state’s financial contributions, but the Counseling Center remains as invisible as ever. Mental health issues affect us all in some way. The state should respect that and grant the College bond-buying authority to build a new Integrated Wellness Center that is vibrant and ubiquitous.
Members of the General Assembly and the state of Virginia should not discount the power of the College’s students, who are already doing extraordinary things in nearly every field. We are consumers, voters and citizens. We are part of the economic and political future of Virginia, and the budgetary decisions that legislators make in Richmond should reflect that.
Matt Camarda recused himself from this editorial to remain unbiased in his reporting.