By Tracy Kennedy
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to punish Virginia Commonwealth University for what he calls an “unacceptable” tuition hike by the school’s Board of Visitors last spring.
The governor stated his intentions last month when he addressed the General Assembly’s budget-writing committees.
“The VCU board approved a 24 percent rate increase for the kids at VCU last year. That’s unacceptable,” McDonnell told the Senate Finance, House Appropriations and House Finance committees on Dec. 17.
“And I’ve made a challenge in the budget, and I’ve only appropriated half of that general fund revenue back to the university.” He said this is something for the board to think about “this spring, when they consider future tuition increases.”
McDonnell’s proposed budget amendment would cut state funding to VCU by $17 million. That’s equal to half of what VCU’s tuition increase raised.
VCU had the largest in-state tuition increase in Virginia last year after it raised tuition and fees by $1,700. As a result, VCU’s in-state undergraduate students now pay $8,717 in tuition and mandatory fees.
Even so, that’s slightly below the average for four-year institutions in Virginia. By comparison, in-state tuition and fees total $12,188 at the College of William and Mary and $10,628 at the University of Virginia.
VCU has more than 32,000 students – just behind George Mason University. George Mason’s tuition this year is $8,484.
When they raised tuition last year, VCU officials said they did so reluctantly. They noted that the school’s tuition rates historically have been among the lowest in the state.
“VCU has cut costs to the bone over the past several years, so much so that the reductions undermined the quality of instruction,” VCU President Michael Rao said in a press release responding to McDonnell’s action.
Rao said VCU needed the tuition increase to make up for a $42 million budget gap created by the end of federal stimulus funding and inadequate state support. VCU received $12 million less in 2009 than it did in 2000, while enrollment has increased 35 percent.
“We will work tirelessly with the Governor’s team and General Assembly members during the session to resolve this budget issue in the best interests of our students, their families and the future of the Commonwealth,” Rao stated in the press release.
At the same time that McDonnell is seeking to withhold money from VCU, the governor is seeking an additional $50 million for higher education funding overall.
McDonnell is proposing a legislative package called the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011. His goal is to grant an additional 100,000 college degrees in Virginia by 2025. McDonnell is also seeking to revive a program to help offset some of the tuition that in-state students pay to private, nonprofit colleges in Virginia.
The governor reiterated those goals in his State of the Commonwealth Address on the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2011 session.
“College tuition has doubled for Virginia students over the past decade. That is unconscionable,” McDonnell said. He called on legislators to “implement major reforms and more accountability in higher education to make college more affordable and accessible for our students.”
“The new dollars will be targeted to undergraduate financial aid and funding incentives for efficiency and economic development, technology, increased four-year graduation rates, year round use of facilities and degree attainment,” McDonnell said.
“These actions will make college more affordable and accessible and create a better educated workforce and more jobs.”