Opinion: Commentary: The Future Is in Good Hands

Opinion: Commentary: The Future Is in Good Hands

Last week, I had the honor and pleasure to attend both Mount Vernon and West Potomac High Schools’ graduation ceremonies. What moving experiences! I can say this unequivocally: the future is in good hands if those graduates have anything to say about it. And, you know that they will! What terrific young people we have in our community! The students were very excited to be graduating and yet maintained a respectful decorum and wonderful professional demeanor. It was the parents and grandparents that yelled the loudest, cheering most robustly as their children received their honors and diplomas. The ceremonies included music by the talented school bands and choirs and both professional guest speakers and equally inspirational student speeches. The newly minted West Potomac and Mount Vernon high school graduates will be attending well over 100 different institutions of higher learning come this Fall. Many others are joining the military, serving our nation proudly. The pride on the faces of faculty and teachers alike during the ceremonies was unmistakable, and they deserve our thanks for successfully educating and guiding our children.

The words from Rod Stewart’s song “Forever Young” came to mind: “And when you finally fly away we hoped we served you well. But whatever road you choose, we’re right behind you win or lose.”

These graduates, including my daughter and niece from West Potomac High School, are ready to take hold of their futures. Yet, in four years, many of them may have large student loans to pay that will make it difficult to pursue their family and career dreams. That is why this year I am proud to say that during the 2019 General Assembly session, the Appropriations Committee on which I sit approved funding in the budget to provide for the first public college tuition freeze in nearly two decades.

The General Assembly then allocated over $57.5 million in the state budget to public colleges who promise to hold tuition steady. The tuition freeze will go into effect for the 2019-2020 school year for in-state undergraduate students at all 15 public colleges in Virginia: Christopher Newport University, College of William and Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Radford University, The University of Virginia's College at Wise, University of Mary Washington, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), and Virginia State University.

Furthermore, of the 15 schools, six of them will freeze tuition for out-of-state students. These schools are Christopher Newport University, George Mason University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Radford University.

We all are aware that student loan debt puts a tremendous strain on college students, recent graduates, and their families, as tuition costs have risen steadily over the years. In fact, as of 2018, 62 percent of students in Virginia graduate with debt. On average, this debt reaches almost $30,000 per student. College tuition costs have been on the rise for decades, but the Great Recession spurred this trend on when state support dropped by 15 percent. By 2010, Virginia began to rely more on tuition dollars than state coffers to fund higher education. This tuition freeze is an important step in the right direction towards restoring higher education funding in the Commonwealth.