November 27, 2011

As Peter Galuszka noted in “The invisible hand at William & Mary” [Local Opinions, Nov. 20], the College of William & Mary is indeed highly competitive nationally and is arguably the nation’s best public university at engaged undergraduate education. Our graduates, from many of the Founding Fathers to Robert M. Gates, Glenn Close, Jon Stewart and legions of other accomplished alumni, contribute greatly to Virginia and the nation. This year’s graduates will be the 250th anniversary class since Thomas Jefferson completed his studies at William & Mary in 1762.

Perhaps Mr. Galuszka is right that in the ideal world public universities would be generously funded from the state and charge only minimal tuition. But that does not reflect the reality of today. The Virginia General Assembly faces difficult budget priorities, including the funding of community colleges, which are essential to the commonwealth reaching the governor’s visionary goal of producing 100,000 more college graduates. The state is no longer able to subsidize heavily William & Mary’s in-state students.

As Mr. Galuszka indicated, state funding has dropped from 43 percent to 13 percent of William & Mary’s budget. With our tuition substantially lower than that of most of our peer universities and many of our students able to pay an amount that is more reflective of the market, our fiduciary obligation requires us to reexamine our pricing model.

A major priority at William & Mary is to innovate and find efficiencies internally, yet it is clear that these savings can compensate for only a fraction of the state funding lost. Those who benefit from the university must make up the bulk of the lost state support. An essential component of our new funding model, however, will be to devote a considerable portion of any increased tuition revenue to financial aid for students from middle-class Virginia families who need it most.

William & Mary has no plans to go private. We embrace the mission of a public institution and will continue providing residents of the commonwealth with affordable access to one of the best universities in the nation.

But it is time to think differently about how we fund Virginia’s public higher education. The low-tuition model worked fine when the state generously funded the university. Today, institutions such as William & Mary are better able to self-fund, making it possible for the governor and the General Assembly to focus the state’s limited resources on other Virginia colleges and universities.

President Taylor Reveley and the Board of Visitors are committed to protecting the state’s investment in William & Mary. We are also committed to ensuring its academic excellence for future Virginia students, as well as those from out of state, by moving to a more logical, increasingly self-funded tuition model, with adequate financial aid for those Virginia families who need the assistance for their sons and daughters to attend an exceptional university.

Jeffrey B. Trammell, Williamsburg

The writer is rector of the College of William & Mary and chairman of the college’s Board of Visitors.