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Making room for Virginia's brightest in its best schools

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 11:45 PM

RICHMOND - Each spring, a number of high school students in Northern Virginia with near-perfect grade-point averages, top-notch SAT scores and a long list of extracurricular activities receives disappointing news.

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They're shut out of Virginia's premier schools - particularly the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary - losing slots to out-of-state students who pay triple the cost of those in-state and subsidize the state's cash-strapped schools.

"I put all my eggs in that U-Va. basket,'' said Lee Seidner, of Fairfax County, who boasted a 3.99 GPA, 1300 on his SAT, eight Advanced Placement classes and a range of activities from National Honor Society to jazz band. "I felt I was qualified."

Seidner tried everything to get off the waiting list at U-Va. Eventually, he ended up at Virginia Tech.

"We pay very high taxes here, and I just didn't think it was right,'' said his mother, Sherrell Panoff, of Chantilly.

For more than five years, state lawmakers have debated how to get more of Virginia's best and brightest students into its state schools, but they haven't agreed on a solution.

This year, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is proposing an additional $58 million for Virginia's colleges and universities as he launches a goal of awarding 100,000 additional associate's and bachelor's degrees over the next 15 years.

McDonnell said the plan will help increase the overall number of students at state schools, making more in-state slots available.

"If you have a 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years, the overwhelming share are going to go to Virginians,'' he said. "And a huge percentage will go to Northern Virginians."

Legislators of both parties have praised McDonnell's plan, part of a package of higher-education proposals the governor has recommended during this annual legislative session, but some don't consider it aggressive enough.

One Northern Virginia legislator has introduced a bill that would cap the number of out-of-state students admitted to state public schools. Another wanted to require schools to charge more for out-of- state tuition in the hopes that fewer students from outside Virginia would need to be admitted in the future.

College officials generally favor McDonnell's more-gradual approach to expansion, but only if the state offers enough money to pay for it.

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