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Letter: Too Little, Too Late

To the Editor:

Kyle McCauley heaped praise on Del. Barbara Comstock for her efforts to "increase the in-state slots guaranteed for Virginia's students to 75 percent" [Increasing Slots for Virginia Students, Connection, January 9-15, 2013].

Three things: 1) Comstock's HB 1700 (which has no co-patrons) is identical to Del. Tim Hugo's (R-40) HB 1605 (David Ramadan, R-87, is chief co-patron); 2) Both bills exclude Virginia Military Institute, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University; and, 3) The increased in-state slots will not go into effect until the 2018-2019 academic year by which time I anticipate young Mr. McCauley will have graduated from the College of William & Mary.

I'll note that Hugo's HB 1083 from the 2012 session of the General Assembly failed to make it out of the Education Sub-Committee for Higher Education and Arts. I doubt HB 1700/1605 will go any further. Yet, these bills do pander to Northern Virginia constituents who want our children to become members of the Tribe or Wahoos. Too bad they are ineffective.

The sad fact is that Virginia's public institutions for higher learning have been grossly under-funded by the Republican dominated House of Delegates for many years. As Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-25) notes in a recent issue of Virginia Policy Review, "Funding per full-time student has decreased 23 percent since 1992. And state funding for core academic functions at our public institutions reached a new low last year of only 33 percent." To make-up for this neglectful funding, lawmakers and college presidents depend on the checkbooks of out-of-state families to subsidize tuition for our in-state students. The "2012-13 Tuition and Fees at Virginia's State-Supported Colleges and Universities" report issued by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia shows that the average in-state tuition and mandatory fees is $6,224 while out-of-state families pay $20,853.

But to be fair, Del. Comstock was one of 43 co-patrons of HB 2510, Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011, a bill that passed the House and Senate unanimously. However, HB 2510 merely suggested that "Each institution’s basic operations and instruction funding need, and the commonwealth’s funding split policy by which 67 percent of an institution’s cost of education for Virginia students is funded from the state general fund and 33 percent from funds other than the state general fund, shall be taken into account by the governor during the preparation of his proposed biennial budget bill." Governor McDonnell and the General Assembly have a long way to go to reverse last year's 33 percent funding to the VHEO Act's suggested 67 percent state funding.

Under-funding of state-supported colleges and universities has other consequences. State government support for student financial aid has decreased over the years. Colleges and universities have to make up the difference. This means that each of Virginia's colleges and universities needs their own fundraising functions which includes staff and office space. Who pays for this overhead cost?

Lower state funding has probably had an effect on the available number of faculty and classrooms. What are students to do if there aren't enough faculty to teach required courses? Not much except to take five or six years to graduate. I would hope that Del. Comstock is curious enough about the relationship between state funding and the four-year graduation rate to sponsor a bill requesting a study by the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee.

I'm not confident that Del. Comstock is willing to make the hard choices required to increase state support for our colleges and universities while simultaneously reducing our dependence on out-of-state families. For the sake of our children, I hope she does. In any case, for Mr. McCauley, it will be too little, too late.

Greg Brandon

McLean