College affordability requires sobriety

It is June 4th in the Commonwealth and we still have stalemate on the budget.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting today that an resolution on the budget will likely come in the 11th hour. On July 1st, the state government will probably shut down without a budget. In the meantime, the boards of visitors of the public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth have been meeting to set tuition and fee levels for next year – without sure knowledge of the budget.

Further, it was reported last week that tax revenues are projected to be short by $350M for this fiscal year. Yes, the one that ends in 26 days. New revenue forecasts will likely reduce budget projections by $500M for each of the next two years.

All at a time while the two legislative chambers are at a stalemate over medicaid expansion.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to disagree over political issues, like medicaid expansion or the Affordable Care Act. I am concerned that few people are thinking about the possible long-term impacts of disruptions like this.

Higher education costs money to operate. When state funds disappear, they are replaced with non-general funds – a technical, painless, way to say “tuition and fees.”  The one thing that seems clear from the last two decades or so in Virginia higher education policy is the need for a stable, predictable level of funding for public institutions and student financial aid (including TAG for students attending Virginia’s private institutions). I will not suggest that our institutions are as efficient as they might be, or that structurally they are the right model. Any of them can stand improvement for operating in the 21st century. On the other hand, undergraduate graduation rates for the public fours are second only to Delaware (which has only a fraction of the institutions and students). You can read more here.

I am sure we can do better than lurch like a drunken sailor from crisis to crisis, from initiative to initiative.

Of course, this goes well beyond the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The federal government has a role to play, as do families and students. Higher education, in fact, all of education, is a shared responsibility for sober and serious people.

 

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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