Virginia's McDonnell seeks $58 million in additional college, university funding

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 4:34 PM

RICHMOND - Gov. Robert M. McDonnell announced Friday that he will ask legislators to invest at least an additional $58 million in Virginia's colleges and universities next year, despite the state's difficult financial outlook.

The bulk of the money will be spent to begin working toward his goal of awarding 100,000 new associate and bachelor's degrees over the next 15 years through financial aid, grants to virtual schools, and other programs.

The money includes $8 million the schools were previously owed for meeting certain performance standards over the past two years but which was not paid by the state.

"I look at this as simply a down payment on our initial pledge,'' McDonnell said at a meeting of his higher-education commission at Virginia Commonwealth University.

McDonnell's goal is to provide a stable funding source for schools so they can avoid the dramatic tuition increases they have had in recent years. Colleges and universities would be provided financial incentives to fulfill higher education goals, including graduating more students in four years and awarding more degrees in high-demand science and technology fields.

"Both my legislation and my budget amendments will set in motion what I believe will be an intensive innovation process over the next six to 12 months to flesh out fully a new results-oriented funding model for higher education that will include both a series of incentives and disincentives,'' he said.

McDonnell's handpicked commission unveiled Friday almost three dozen recommendations designed to award 100,000 new associate and bachelor's degrees over the next 15 years as it looks to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees from 42 percent to 55 percent.

The commission recommended that Virginia's colleges and universities open year-round, offer new public-private loans and limit the time required to attain a degree.

Each community college, public or private college and university will evaluate how it can meet those goals, with the state offering financial rewards for each school.

"Some have suggested these are the most significant comprehensive initiatives since the creation of the community college system 40 years ago,'' said Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania), a commission member.

Other recommendations include promoting community college enrollment before four-year college study, reducing schools' reliance on tuition and fees and creating a rainy-day fund to avoid sudden surges in tuition and fees.

"Tuition doubling every 10 years, not enough slots for qualified students is simply unacceptable,'' McDonnell said. "This report and these recommendations are a blueprint for helping to address that problem."

McDonnell will announce the rest of his amendments Dec. 17 for the budget for fiscal 2012.

The Governor's Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment is charged with trying to increase the number of in-state students enrolling in colleges, preparing students for fields such as science, technology, engineering, math and health care, and preventing significant and unexpected tuition increases.

Other recommendations include creating a state income tax credit to promote private investment in research and development. Although the commission wants to increase accessibility and affordability for students, it will not recommend specific tuition or attendance numbers to the schools.

The commission is headed by Tom Farrell, president and chief executive of Dominion Resources and former rector of the University of Virginia. Members include presidents of several Virginia colleges and universities, legislators and business and education policy experts. A final report will be released in fall 2011.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company