Issues That Matter to You: Higher Education Costs

The University of Virginia, above, and George Mason were campaign stops last week.
The University of Virginia, above, and George Mason were campaign stops last week. (By Bill Clark -- Daily Progress Via Associated Press)
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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

As college campuses prepare for the fall semester to begin, the two men running for governor are turning their attention to higher education, one of the central issues emerging in this year's gubernatorial race.

Former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell (R) spent Monday at the University of Virginia talking to students and professors about the high cost of textbooks. On Friday, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D) described his "unwavering and deep commitment to education" during a speech at George Mason University. Both have said that education is key to economic recovery in Virginia.

McDonnell supports devoting more of the state budget to higher education. Students and their families have been forced to carry too much of the financial burden of the state's public colleges and universities through tuition increases in recent years, he has said. He blames Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and Kaine's predecessor, Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats, saying they increased overall state spending without proportionally increasing investment in higher education.

"Our opponent, Creigh Deeds, said that he wants to continue in the Kaine-Warner tradition," McDonnell spokeswoman Crystal Cameron said in an e-mail. "With skyrocketing costs like this, parents and students simply can't afford to walk down that same path for another four years."

Democrats, however, say McDonnell's record reflects no great emphasis on education or keeping tuition down. They also noted that as a state delegate, he voted for a 2001 bill that imposed a $1-per-credit surcharge to pay for campus maintenance.

Deeds and McDonnell both back increasing the number of seats in the state's institutions of higher learning. Deeds has called for 70,000 additional two- and four-year degrees over the next decade, while McDonnell wants to expand the number by 119,000 over the next 15 years. Both plans would cost tens of millions of dollars.

In his speech, Deeds said he supports adding $40 million annually to college financial aid programs and increasing access to affordable student loans. The ultimate goal, he said, is for every qualified student in the state to have a shot at a college degree, regardless of his or her ability to pay. "Every Virginian will have access to an affordable higher education," he said.

Neither plan would limit the number of out-of-state students who could be admitted to Virginia universities. Those students often pay as much as three times more in tuition and fees and then stay in Virginia after receiving degrees.

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