Opinion: Commentary: Academic Feast in the Commonwealth

Opinion: Commentary: Academic Feast in the Commonwealth

In Virginia, we are fortunate to have some of the best public universities in the country including my alma mater, the University of Virginia. Yet, you may not realize that we are also blessed with outstanding private colleges in the Commonwealth. As private college week comes to a close, and as my wife and I are in the midst of our daughter’s own college search, I want to highlight for you the benefits these schools provide to Virginia and the students that attend them.

One of the first issues to come up when discussing private colleges is usually cost. This is a completely justifiable concern. Prices for colleges across our country have ballooned at an alarming rate. Making college more affordable is one of the most important issues facing society today. However, private colleges have taken steps to reduce the burden of cost and to help make a student’s decision between choosing a public and private school a personal one, instead of a financial one. Work study, institutional, merit, and need-based grants have helped to close this gap. In the 2016-2017 year, 82 percent of undergraduates received financial aid and 49 percent received Pell Grants (most students’ families receiving Pell Grants make less than 40,000 dollars a year). Additionally, Virginia residents are eligible for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) which provides non need-based financial aid for students (the aid was 3,200 dollars for students in 2016-2017) through funding from the General Assembly. These financial aid packages can result in private college attendees having similar rates of debt as students at public universities.

One of the many benefits of Virginia having great private and public universities and colleges is that it provides students of all needs and circumstances with great choices for a quality education. Some thrive in the energy of a public university with thousands of students and numerous educational programs to choose from. Conversely, other students desire a more intimate environment to reach their full academic potential. Private colleges provide a smaller, familial atmosphere. The average class size at a private college in Virginia is 16 students with a student to faculty ratio of 11:1. Smaller class sizes allow students to work closely with faculty who often serve as lifelong mentors to help guide them in their future career and educational opportunities. Additionally, private colleges are known for their great, holistic liberal arts education. Some pundits may disparage the liberal arts and humanities as a bad investment, but as the proud owner of a BA, I am living proof that you can have an interesting and exciting career. Liberal arts degrees teach students to think creatively and communicate effectively, traits vital to the modern workplace.

These independent colleges are strong contributors to our Virginia economy. Over 23,000 people are employed by private colleges, and in some areas these schools are the primary employer in the region. These jobs pay hard working Virginians over $1.2 billion in salaries and benefits. Furthermore, these colleges help us reinvest in Virginia by paying over $26 million in taxes and other state fees. Over 200,000 Virginia private school alumni currently live in Virginia and contribute to making our economy and community stronger. Along with our wonderful public universities, private colleges ensure that our Commonwealth continues to maintain a strong, diverse and cost effective higher education system. Now, if my daughter could just decide upon one of these excellent schools! For more information please visit vaprivatecolleges.org.