Pricetag on Education in Virginia
by Elizabeth DeBusk | William and Mary
The country’s current economic situation has taken a toll on public education funding everywhere. As state support for public colleges continues to dwindle, state schools are forced to find new sources for financial support. Virginia colleges are in a particularly tight bind, as, over the past year, politicians seeking to pacify their constituents have placed restrictive limits on the in-state to out-of-state student ratios. While out-of-state students represent a dramatic minority of students at state colleges, the steep tuition costs that these students pay represent huge portions of public colleges’ operating budgets. By cutting both state funding and the number of out-of-state students that Virginia colleges can accept, Virginia legislators have put state schools in a double bind.
College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley made national headlines after an interview with Virginia Business in which he commented that the College should start basing in-state tuition on “fair market value.” Reveley suggested upping in-state tuition for Virginia students so that those students are bearing more of the College’s operating cost. While Reveley’s comment sounds cold, it seems to be the only viable option with which the College is left when, as Reveley notes, Virginia ranks only 38th in state and local appropriations per student — embarrassingly lower than the Commonwealth’s close neighbors Maryland and North Carolina.
In a Washington Post column, Peter Galuszka criticized Reveley for taking this approach to the College’s finances. Galuszka, the father of a University of Virginia student, fears that this step is the first move toward privatizing the College. Galuszka asks Virginia legislators to increase funding given to state colleges in order to prevent such results.
While I highly doubt that the College would ever become a private school, I applaud Reveley’s comments. I am an in-state student at the College. Naturally, I do not want to pay more for tuition; however, I acknowledge that the College is currently strapped for cash. Furthermore, such tuition increases are not novel; rather, the College has been moving toward this model for the past several years. In-state tuition has increased at the College by 36.7 percent over the last three years as a result of waning state funding. Reveley’s comments are a public acknowledgement of these changes.
Naturally, Virginia parents such as Galuszka are upset at the increases in tuition; however, the argument that “I pay Virginia taxes” does not go very far when such a small proportion of the Virginia taxpayers’ money is going toward higher education. While the lack of funding from the state is frustrating, it cannot be avoided in the current economic situation. Galuszka wants the Commonwealth to be more generous with its funding for higher education. In case Galuszka has missed the memo, state schools have been asking for more money for years. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to grant all of the funding that state colleges need, so increasing funding to state colleges is not a viable answer.
A more productive way for Virginia residents to express their dissatisfaction at these potential tuition hikes is to ask their legislators to lessen the in-state to out-of-state student ratio requirements. Yes, Virginia parents want their children to have the option of attending a prestigious state college, but this should not have to occur at the expense of the colleges. Arguably, if the Virginia resident does not have the academics to be accepted at the school, the blame lies with the student. Virginia state schools will continue to favor competitive in-state students, just as they have always done, but in-state students will have to bear less of the burden of the College’s operating cost.
When Virginia legislators passed the new ratio requirements, they placed Virginia state colleges in tight binds. No one likes tuition hikes, but when Virginia’s legislators placed such detrimental restrictions on state colleges, they left no room for alternatives. Through his remarks, Reveley shifts the College into a position of greater political power. If legislators do not want to see these increases in tuition, then they must give state colleges more freedom in determining in-state-to-out-of-state student ratios.Elizabeth is a senior at the College of William and Mary. As an English and Linguistics double major, her interests include the effects of media on culture, as well as social perceptions based on speech and language usage. Elizabeth served as Opinions Editor at The Flat Hat, the student newspaper at the College, for two years. She is currently the writer for The Flat Hat's unsigned staff editorial.