Gov. seeks $50M in higher education

Governor Bob McDonnell proposed spending $50 million on a wide-range of higher education initiatives Friday.

McDonnell announced the investment plan during the governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment meeting at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, according to a news release.

“We must reverse the trend of disinvestment in higher education,” McDonnell said in the news release. “We must do more to equip our students with the tools and reserves they need to compete with their peers here in the United States and around the world.”

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., one of eight college presidents on the 44-member commission, said McDonnell plans to enhance tuition assistance grants (TAG) for Virginia students attending the independent colleges and universities.

During commission meetings, Falwell stressed the importance of TAG funding and the money independent schools save the state.

“Liberty alone is saving the state several million dollars a year,” Falwell said.

Falwell said it costs Virginia $6,600 per year to educate a student at a state college, compared to a $2,600 investment for independent schools.

“The amount of money the TAG program saves the state is huge,” Falwell said.

Private colleges and universities surveyed students to measure the impact of the TAG program. Liberty also urged students receiving TAG to stress the program’s importance to state leaders.

“Every college student who is a resident of the state of Virginia receives $2600 per year from the state if that student chooses to attend a private college in Virginia.

The grant is available to resident and online students,” Falwell said.

The governor’s commission applauded Liberty for operational efficiency because it is the state’s only nonprofit college or university to pay its operating expenses with tuition and fees, Falwell said.

“Liberty’s use of online delivery technology along with its innovative and cost-saving management practices allow it to deliver education more efficiently and allow it to make education affordable for its students.  That is the governor’s goal — to make education more accessible and more affordable so, in many ways, Liberty has become a model for others schools to emulate,” Falwell said.

Liberty is efficient in building new projects and renovating older buildings, spending $60 to $120 per square foot compared to $150 to $400 per square foot rate seen at many public colleges, Falwell said.

McDonnell plans to introduce the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011 to the General Assembly next year.

The governor’s plan incorporates strategies from the commission’s three primary objectives — economic opportunity, reform-based investment and affordable access, according to a press release.

McDonnell has set a goal of graduating 100,000 more degrees in the next 15 years with an emphasis on urging Virginia residents with partial college credit to complete the program.

“Good jobs come from a good education and by graduating more degrees, Virginians will be able to better compete for the top jobs and high incomes of our global economy,” McDonnell said.

The state will focus on strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math degree fields through a private-public partnership.

“It’s a fact that many of the jobs of tomorrow will come from these core areas, and I am committed to ensuring our children have the necessary tools to compete for them,” McDonnell said.

The higher education investment proposal also outlines initiatives in research and development, including tracking research and development projects in the state, adding increased funds for research and development, and creating a state income tax credit to promote private investment.

“Research and development remain a priority; therefore, I will also propose a research and development tax credit to boost Virginia‘s economic competitiveness,” McDonnell said.

The governor wants the state to place excess revenue in a “rainy day” fund to curb tuition surges and maintain higher education initiatives.

The plan also calls for increased need-based financial grants and low-interest loans for low- and middle-income families.

“Over the past decade, college tuition has doubled, and that is simply not acceptable,” McDonnell said. “The college cost burden has shifted heavily to tuition-paying parents and their families.”

Other initiatives include utilizing state schools year-round, strengthening technology programs and instruction, and boosting dual-enrollment and advanced placement courses in high schools.

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