As a parent of college-age children, I am more than a little concerned about the state of affairs in Virginia's State College System. As a taxpayer, I am concerned that the opportunity for affordable higher education is being closed for Virginia's middle class.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's recent reduction in aid to the state's colleges and university has had the short-term effect of decreasing the quality of education, with the inevitable long-term effect of creating higher costs and larger debt for the graduates and/or their parents. For our nation to survive the higher technology requirements of the 1990s and beyond, we must be able to compete, and this means a greater national commitment to education. Gov. Wilder's direction for the state is contrary to that goal.

There is, however, an even greater injustice being played out here in Fairfax County at George Mason University. The governor's funding cuts have affected GMU like other state schools, but the cuts are coming in the middle of GMU's physical growth, and important funds are being diverted from quality education to completion of the physical plant. Courses are being canceled or cut back, making it more difficult for students to complete their requirements for graduation. The student body is being asked to pay too high a price for the school's growth.

Unfortunately, this is not a new problem at GMU, where students have been struggling for years -- almost since the school's rapid expansion began -- to get the classes they need. The result has been additional semesters for some students and frustration leading to dropping out for others. Admittedly this is not a problem unique to GMU, but from what I've heard from others and seen with my own daughter, it is a much more serious problem at GMU than at other schools, and the budget cuts are making it worse.

What I propose for GMU is an orderly process of phased reduction in development and a state-imposed (because I do not think the school's administration would do it voluntarily) limit on the number of new students the university can admit. By admitting new students without an adequate course base to support them, the university is doing a serious disservice to the students, and we taxpayers are not getting our tax dollar's worth.