Campaign Targets In-State Colleges

Candidates Offer Funding Options

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009

RICHMOND -- One in a series of articles about issues being discussed by the Democratic candidates for governor of Virginia, who will stand for the primary Tuesday.

As they have crossed the commonwealth, the three Democratic candidates for governor have repeatedly heard the same complaint from parents: Virginia students with impressive grades and test scores are being shut out of the state's top schools.

Access to affordable education has become a central issue in this year's primary, especially for middle-class voters who may no longer be confident that an expensive private college or university is within their grasp.

Although some state legislators have pushed for strict limits on the number of out-of-state students taking slots in state schools, Terry McAuliffe, R. Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran have proposed other ways to make more room for Virginians.

State guidelines call for schools to reject out-of-state undergraduates if their numbers surpass 25 percent of the student population, but the state does not enforce the policy. Out-of-state populations are higher at the top-ranked schools -- they make up 33 percent of the student body at the University of Virginia and 32 percent at the College of William & Mary, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

So what will the candidates do? Deeds, a state senator from Bath County, and Moran, a former delegate from Alexandria, propose sending more state money to the universities to create additional local slots.

Deeds has released a plan that calls for 70,000 additional two- and four-year degrees in the next decade, although not necessarily all for in-state students. It would cost $78 million in the first year.

"Under my plan, every student from Virginia who plays by the rules, who can get into a four-year school, is going to have the opportunity to attend that school," Deeds said.

McAuliffe, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he wants the state's colleges and universities to generate more money from the sale of patents stemming from research. Half of the proceeds would go back to the schools and fund more in-state slots.

"We are leaving millions of dollars on the table because we don't have a streamlined sense of how to bring in the private sector and commercialize our patents," McAuliffe said.

Moran has released few details about his proposal or a price tag, but said that the cost of more in-state placements would eventually be covered by better-educated residents earning greater incomes and paying taxes.

"We should make sure that we have a balanced approach that allows good students access as well as affordability," Moran said.

But finding the money to pay for additional slots will continue to be a problem. All schools want more state funds. But some, such as William & Mary, do not want to increase enrollment -- even if they receive the money.

In the past two years, state colleges have seen budget cuts of $130 million. Out-of-state students subsidize Virginia students by paying as much as three times more in tuition and fees.

"They can't handle more growth without more funding,'' said Kristen Nelson, the state council's director of communications and government relations. "They can't afford it."

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