Virginia can rightly boast of its institutions of higher education, in particular the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and Virginia Tech. Years of careful nurturing and, for a time, adequate funding helped raise the schools’ levels to make them highly competitive nationally.
U.Va., for instance, ranks second nationally among public schools, surpassed only by the University of California at Berkeley. W&M and Tech are distinguished for their liberal arts or engineering programs.
So, it is disturbing to read an interview with W&M President Taylor Reveley, who wants to, in effect, end the partial ride that Virginia resident students get if they get into his school. He wants their tuitions to be set by the market.
There’s no arguing with the predicament as he describes it. State funding used to make up 43 percent of William & Mary’s budget 30 years ago, but now it is only about 13 percent. Like its tony sisters, the school makes up for that in part by charging out-of-state students a hefty tuition and board of $44,854. In-staters pay $22,024.
This imbalance has put pressure on the schools to push hard for out-of-state students attracted by the Virginia schools’ academic standards and pleasant campuses. It also makes it harder for in-staters to win admittance. This can make for tears and gnashing of teeth in the spring when acceptance letters go out. (Full disclosure, I am a U.Va. parent).
An even bigger problem is that should Reveley’s market-set, in-state pricing plan work, it could help clear the way to privatizing Virginia’s precious public university gems. There’s a strong undercurrent, especially among privatization-loving conservatives, to extract state funding entirely and make the schools private, like Washington & Lee or the University of Richmond or Georgetown.
Doing so would be a tragedy. Strong public higher education is a major plus for the Old Dominion, which may not have taken full advantage of its situation. There would be big issues such as how taxpayers who have helped build up the schools would be repaid for their efforts. My guess: probably not at all.
It is true that the leaders of the top three schools helped initiate state funding cuts in a scheme to limit Richmond’s interference in their operations. Problem is, politicians like Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who claims to be a higher-ed kind of guy, are all too happy to cut their budgets even more. Doing so hurts the state. It would suffer even more if venerable institutions such as W&M and Mr. Jefferson’s University are ever sold off and privatized.