McDonnell inadvertently punishes students

John Richardson


In Gov. Bob McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth Address last week, not only did he deem higher education one of his top four priorities, he said the rise in tuition costs for Virginia students “is unacceptable.”

Why then, would McDonnell try to lower tuition costs by confiscating half of the funds accumulated from VCU’s hike in tuition costs?

Apparently, he thinks he is helping students by not allowing that money to flow back into the university. But McDonnell’s action “directly affects VCU’s ability to continue providing a quality education and ensure that students graduate on time,” according to VCU’s president, Michael Rao.

“What I have done is only appropriate half of the tuition increase money and have reserved the rest of the money,” McDonnell said. “And depending on what happens with the board of visitors’ decision on tuition increases this year, perhaps we can release the rest of the money next year.”

In other words, McDonnell has limited VCU to spending only half of its $34.4 million of additional tuition revenue during this academic year. If VCU decides to lower next year’s tuition rates, it might receive the other $17.2 million.

“This will certainly be a good message to our higher education institutions that they need to govern their tuition rates accordingly,” McDonnell said.

So if universities raise their tuition out of desperation to meet their base funding needs, he will deplete more of their funds. Surely he realizes that tuition increases were a necessary reaction to the loss of federal stimulus funding.

VCU wasn’t the only Virginia university to increase its tuition. But the governor has made an example out of VCU since it is one of the commonwealth’s largest four-year institutions and saw the highest increase in tuition rates last year. But even so, at its current rate of $8,817, VCU is still below the state average of $8,830.
By singling out VCU, Gov. McDonnell wants to provoke all 15 of Virginia’s universities into lowering tuition costs. But he should first try to provoke the General Assembly into increasing educational funding now that the economy is recovering. That way, VCU would not have to increase its tuition, and it could actually use the money it is receiving.

Since 2008, VCU lost nearly one-third of its state funding and faces a $42.4 million funding cliff – the largest of any Virginia university.

The 24 percent hike in tuition was supposed to cushion the impact of that fall. Now that McDonnell has pulled that cushioning out from under VCU, it will be hurting in the most important areas: financial aid, faculty numbers and course offerings – all of which have been drastically declining in recent years, and why VCU needed to raise its tuition.

McDonnell has assured that students’ tuition will not increase this year, but also that their educational quality will inevitably decrease. He has punished the victim.

Gov. McDonnell’s budget proposal will be considered by the General Assembly in its 2011 session this month. Gov. McDonnell can be contacted at Send him your thoughts.

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