This past week high school seniors across the nation began to receive eagerly awaited notifications of acceptance or rejection from colleges and universities. This annual ritual seems every year to be accompanied by an increasingly predictable range of commentary: criticizing the rising costs of higher education, questioning the value of this investment to many applicants, bemoaning the (potentially) crushing impact of student debt and many variations of these themes. However, even with these concerns swirling in the background, this week remains a key milestone for many hard-working and well-prepared aspirants in Northern Virginia.
I am proud of the commitment that Virginians have historically made to higher education. Our public universities offer Virginia students many fine options to pursue opportunities in a wide range of disciplines. I believe there is broad, bipartisan agreement that higher education is a key driver of economic vitality of the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, over the past 15 years there has been a steady erosion of appropriated financial support to higher education, equivalent to a 30 precent cut in inflation-adjusted dollars over the period. Of course, over this period, there have been substantial cost increases, above the rate of inflation, to deliver the high quality education that Virginians have come to expect. Not surprisingly this has put tremendous upward pressure on student tuition to fill the gap.
I suspect most readers – except those with students attending state schools – will be surprised to learn that of the Commonwealth’s 16 four-year institutions, nine have total 2014-15 school year fees – for in-state students – of more than $20,000. Three schools – VCU, VMI and William & Mary – cost more than the University of Virginia’s $23,000. Only one college, Richard Bland in Petersburg, costs less than $18,000. For in-state tuition!
Of course, the amounts cited above are not the amounts actually paid by in-state students who qualify for financial aid, which at UVA is about 35 percent of all students. However, the SCHEV report cited above notes that even after taking into consideration financial aid amounts, between 2007 and 2012 the cost of attending state schools among the lowest income in-state students rose 3.5 percent per year faster than all other income groups. Recently, UVA announced a plan to address this problem. They propose to increase in-state tuition by $2,000 over the next two years in order to offset this this disparity with financial aid increases. As might be expected, the UVA announcement provoked howls from a Northern Virginia Republican delegate protesting “income redistribution” and calling for cost cutting by UVA across the board. In my opinion, financing higher education should be a key issue for the election in November.
I would like to highlight the efforts of many of my constituents in the 38th District to tackle the challenge of affordable higher education directly on a student to student basis. For some years I have been involved as a supporter and participant in multiple complementary scholarship programs targeting students at Stuart High School. The Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund was founded by Justice Marshall’s Lake Barcroft neighbors to honor his memory by funding an average of three scholarships annually for high achieving graduates of this diverse east Fairfax County school. The Stuart Educational Foundation, with the support of the Baileys Crossroads Rotary Club, raises $80-$100K annually in order to provide scholarships to 30 – 40 Stuart graduates, many of whom would not be able to pursue higher education without substantial financial aid. AA Success is a Falls Church-based non-profit that provides local high school students with mentoring, internship and community participation opportunities, as well as scholarship support. I know there are similar programs sponsored by businesses and other community organizations across Northern Virginia. While these initiatives cannot fill the financial gaps created by the Commonwealth’s false economies, they do meet urgent needs of deserving students. I encourage you to support these efforts if you can.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]