Lawmakers Want to Limit Non-Va. College Students

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

RICHMOND -- Valedictorian Phillip Wears boasted a 4.01 grade point average, served as captain of his lacrosse team and won awards for photography and television production when he graduated from South County Secondary School last year. But he still couldn't get into the University of Virginia. "He was kind of shocked more than anything," said his mother, Millie Wears of Fairfax Station. "It's a Virginia school. You have a student who has a 4.0. How can you say no?"

State legislators say they think they know the answer: An increasing number of Virginia students with top grades and impressive test scores, many from populous Northern Virginia, are losing slots at the state's premiere schools to out-of-state students.

Now, lawmakers are attempting to limit the number of out-of-state students admitted to Virginia's schools to reserve more seats for in-state students, particularly at U-Va., the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech and James Madison University.

The General Assembly is considering providing the schools with $12.5 million in extra funds to cover the cost of the in-state enrollment growth. The schools would be required to set aside at least 70 percent of freshman slots and 80 percent of new transfer slots for in-state students.

"We're in a situation where we have the 'University of New Jersey-Charlottesville' campus and the 'University of Pennsylvania-Williamsburg' campus," Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) said. "I think that needs to come to an end."

The state's top schools are lobbying against any policy change, saying they would lose millions of dollars as well as a more diverse student population by limiting out-of-state students, who subsidize Virginia students by paying up to three times as much in tuition and fees.

"We are opposed to a specific hard cap, particularly when the budget is the way it is," said Fran Bradford, associate vice president for government relations at William and Mary. "To take away that source of revenue and, frankly, to take away some of our finest students is a little bit of a challenge."

Lawmakers already are considering cutting funding for higher education by about $296 million over two years to address the state's $3.7 billion shortfall. State aid accounts for 18 percent of William and Mary's operating budget and 8 percent of U-Va.'s. School officials estimate that the proposal could cost them millions of more dollars.

"I am deeply concerned that unless the state and the General Assembly are ready to make a substantial financial commitment to higher education in Virginia . . . that what you propose will place all of our public institutions of higher education in jeopardy," U-Va. Rector W. Heywood Fralin wrote to legislators.

The Republican-controlled House included language limiting out-of-state students in its version of the state's two-year $77 billion budget, but the Democratic-controlled Senate did not.

House and Senate budget negotiators have less than a week to reach a deal on higher education and other budget issues. They began meeting Sunday night and must complete their work before the General Assembly's scheduled adjournment Saturday.

Officials at the State Council of Higher Education say each school should make its own decisions. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) also has expressed concerns about limiting out-of-state students, and it's unclear whether he would support the proposal.

Currently, guidelines call for schools to reject out-of-state undergraduates if the population rises above 25 percent, but the state does not enforce the policy.

About 81 percent of students attending public schools in Virginia are state residents, according to the council. The numbers are lower at the four top-ranked schools: 67 percent at U-Va., 68 percent at William and Mary, 70 percent at James Madison University and 74 percent at Virginia Tech.

David Lacey of Centreville contacted Hugo after taking his daughter Maureen, a high school senior, to tour colleges in North Carolina, where schools limit their out-of-state student population to 18 percent. He wants Virginia to adopt a similar practice.

Otherwise, Lacey said, "Whenever a budget crisis arises, they are going to accept more out-of-state students."

But Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond) said that schools would be "boring and sterile" places if they admitted only Virginians who want to study law and medicine.

"Our flagship universities . . . would cease to be the nationally recognized and much-sought-after universities that they are if we would reduce the rich talent pool of out-of-state students," he said.

Legislators introduced four bills during the 45-day session requiring schools to boost the number of in-state students to between 70 percent and 80 percent after hearing complaints from parents. All of the proposals were set aside, and lawmakers decided to consider changes during budget deliberations.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) introduced one of the bills after he met Phillip Wears, now a freshman at Virginia Tech.

"While I realize that this will likely do nothing to personally benefit me, I hope it can help future college applicants who aspire to attend schools with extremely high standards such as UVA," Wears said.

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