Higher education spared in Gov. McAuliffe’s new budget proposal statewide cuts

Matt Leonard
Online Content Editor

Gov. McAuliffe’s December state-budget proposal allocates an additional $12.5 million to higher education after an unexpected $90 million cut in September. Photo by Julie Tripp

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s December budget proposal made higher education a priority as the government scrambles to cover a $2.4 billion budget shortfall.

In September, $90 million was unexpectedly cut from higher education in Virginia, resulting in a $5.4 million cut from VCU’s budget for fiscal year 2015-16. In contrast, McAuliffe’s recently proposed legislation allocates $2.5 million in additional financial aid funding and $10 million for Virginia institutions to invest in the latest research technology.

This additional funding would mean an extra $100,000 in the financial aid budget for VCU, said Matt Conrad, VCU’s interim assistant to the president for governance. 2014 statistics expressed that VCU had $92 million in unmet need.

State spending on higher education has been decreasing annually since its peak in fiscal year 2009 at $5,557 per student. By fiscal year 2013 that number had dropped to $2,782.

A November 2014 report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commissions stated that as state funding dips, institutions begin making up the difference by increasing tuition.

When the September budget cuts to higher education were announced last semester, VCU expressed that as a result a two percent tuition bump next year is likely.

“Increasing tuition means more debt and more debt means a more bleak outcome for young people’s career aspirations,” said Alexis Rodgers, the communications director for Virginia 21, a group dedicated to representing young people in the political process.

Prefacing the governor’s new proposal, Virginia 21 launched the “Save Our Slice” campaign. The campaign included a video featuring campus leaders across Virginia asking the governor not to further cut higher education funding.

Brandon Day, the Monroe Park Campus SGA President, appeared briefly in the video after a University of Mary Washington student compared higher education to an “economic engine.”

“Cutting funds drains gasses from the tank,” Day said in the video.

McAuliffe’s new budget proposal still needs to win the approval of state legislators in the Virginia General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 14.

Day said student leaders and Virginia 21 plan on making apparent to legislators how important this issue is to their constituents.

“We have a ton of support from students across the entire commonwealth,” Day said. “When (legislators) see that, and when they hear that power behind the movement, I think they’ll be just as likely to get behind (funding higher education).”

VCU is also continuing lobbying efforts in Capitol Square. Conrad said that VCU isn’t seeking further funds, but working hard to simply “hold the line.”

“Most legislators are taking a very conservative approach this session just because of the revenue forecast,” Conrad said.

In contrast, Rodgers is confident that McAuliffe’s proposed funding will clear the General Assembly as the Virginia 21 campaign has talked to multiple legislators on both sides of the aisle in favor of continuing funding at it’s current rate.

“Since the governor has announced his proposal, the main issue that both the house and senate have shared, particularly on the Republican side, is that he included Medicaid expansion again,” she said.

Other issues Virginia 21 will be pursuing throughout the upcoming session include the Dream Act, in-state tuition and campus sexual assault.

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