Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore proposed Wednesday to offer 100 scholarships for engineering students and to increase state grants for students attending private Virginia colleges.
Outlining his program for higher education improvements, Kilgore said the state-sponsored scholarships would provide tuition and room and board to students who are willing to get an engineering degree and who promise to work in Virginia for a period after graduating.
He said the United States is producing far fewer qualified engineers than China or India.
"Every state has to help remedy this deficit," Kilgore said.
He said his proposal to increase the state Tuition Assistance Grant would encourage attendance at private colleges, relieving some of the crowding at the state's public colleges and universities. The grants would increase from $2,500 per year to $4,000 per year, he said.
Kilgore proposed increasing cooperation between rural community colleges and the state's four-year universities and said colleges and universities in the state should be encouraged to operate year-round to make the best use of limited space.
"I'm going to be dedicated to ensuring that college . . . is available, accessible and affordable for all those who seek it," Kilgore said.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic candidate, and state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running for governor as an independent, will announce higher education proposals in the next few weeks.
Potts and a spokeswoman for Kaine lashed out at Kilgore for proposing costly programs without offering specifics about how he would come up with the $21 million Kilgore said the programs would cost.
Asked that question Wednesday, Kilgore said that he would prioritize state spending and that growth in state revenue -- the result of the strong economy -- would make the proposals affordable.
Potts and the Kaine spokeswoman, Delacey Skinner, said the answer was not good enough.
"He's telling Virginians that we are going to grow enough to pay for all these things. That's absolutely impossible," Potts said. "Incredible, outlandish proposals. My question to him is, show me the money."
Potts noted that Kilgore opposed the budget compromise in 2004 that boosted spending on colleges and universities by almost $250 million. The budget deal included an increase in the state grants, Potts said.
"Those measures are very laudable. I commend them," said Potts, who chairs the Senate Education and Health Committee. "How would he pay for those?"
Skinner also was critical of Kilgore's proposals.
"It is ironic that the guy who fought tooth and nail against budget reform is now turning around and proposing more higher education spending," Skinner said.
Skinner said Kaine supported increasing the Tuition Assistance Grant during the budget negotiations in 2004 and would be open to another increase if it was affordable. She called the proposal for engineering scholarships "a good first step" that needs to be followed by economic development to ensure that there are engineering jobs in Virginia when the students graduate.