University of Virginia and Virginia Tech officials have put off plans for a four-year, jointly run, 5,000-student undergraduate college in Northern Virginia, saying that the state's fiscal crisis has dried up funding for the project.
In comments this week, U-Va.'s new president, John Casteen, said the college "isn't likely to work," and Tech officials have said they agree with his assessment.
Woodrow Wilson College, envisioned as a way to ease growth pressures at U-Va. and Tech while responding to a sharp increase in high school graduates that is expected in Northern Virginia during the next two decades, was to have opened in 1997 and offered a curriculum focused on contemporary urban issues.
But Wilson, proposed when Virginia's economy was bustling, became an easy target in the General Assembly this year when the state's revenue picture turned sour.
The legislature rejected the universities' request for $380,000 in planning money, and since then the project has become a low priority for U-Va. and Tech officials scrambling just to maintain their schools' funding levels.
"Everybody has turned their sights inward," said William H. Fishback Jr., associate vice president for university relations at U-Va. "Fiscally, the reality of the time is such that the Woodrow Wilson idea . . . is on the back burner."
Fishback said the Wilson proposal also was plagued by questions as to how effectively a Northern Virginia campus could be overseen by officials in Charlottesville and Blacksburg. As outlined last year, Wilson College would have been run by a chancellor who would answer to a board of U-Va. and Tech officials.
At George Mason University, where enrollment is expected to increase from about 20,000 this year to 32,000 by the end of the decade, officials had no comment on yesterday's announcement. George Mason has been pushing a rival plan for its own campus in Prince William County.
Wilson College planners had hoped to locate the college in either Prince William or Loudoun County, where rapid population growth could help support the school. Officials at both universities had maintained that the proposed college would not be a competitor to GMU.
Wilson was projected to require about $70 million in capital costs, not including land, and an annual operating budget of nearly $27 million by 2005.
U-Va. and Tech officials offered the Wilson proposal last year amid state officials' projections of a 36 percent increase -- or 25,000 more students -- in home-state high school graduates by 2005.
Those projections were particularly alarming at U-Va., the state's flagship university.
Many of U-Va.'s 17,500 students have pressed university officials to limit growth and maintain the "academical village" created by the university's founder, Thomas Jefferson. Other forces, particularly politicians and parents from Northern Virginia, have pushed for expansion at U-Va., which has adopted a slow-growth plan that will begin in 1997 and eventually increase enrollment to about 20,000.
Virginia Tech, with an enrollment of about 24,000, has had similar growing pains. Tech officials yesterday echoed U-Va. leaders, saying that Virginia's budget problems have them limiting their concerns to the Blacksburg campus.
The Wilson proposal "certainly is not something that is going to be taken up in the immediate future," said Darrel Martin, assistant to Virginia Tech President James D. McComas.