VTAG funding increases

Time to apply — Students from Virginia prepare to apply for the new VTAG funding. Photo Credit: Ruth Bibby.

Virginia residents attending Liberty University and other private colleges are expected to receive a boost in tuition assistance.

Gov. Bob McDonnell’s higher education initiatives passed two key votes towards becoming law this week.

McDonnell’s plan — the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011 — increases Virginia Tuition Assistance Grants (VTAG) by $3 million to state students attending private colleges. Students should receive $2,700 per year, compared to $2,600 currently.

The legislation, which calls for $50 million in college-level spending, garnered unanimous support from the House of Delegates and the Senate Finance Committee.

“We are committed to putting in place the policies that will make the Commonwealth a job-magnet in the years ahead, and that starts with ensuring we have a well-educated workforce,” McDonnell said in a press release. “Every Virginian deserves the opportunity to access higher education and pursue their dreams.”

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., who serves on the governor’s 44-member higher education commission, is pleased with the state’s commitment to VTAG funding.

“Private college presidents in Virginia were hoping to avoid a cut in the amount Virginia students receive through TAG. Because of enrollment growth, $2.2 million in new funding was needed to keep the grant to each Virginia student at $2,600,” Falwell said. “All of the private college presidents were thrilled when the governor announced a $3 million increase in TAG funding. We deeply appreciate the governor’s recognition of the important role played by private colleges in Virginia.”

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

“Private colleges save the state many millions of dollars each year by educating students less expensively than the state system seems to be able to do,” Falwell, one of eight college presidents on the commission, said.
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.

“The governor is facing a tight budget and it would have been very easy for him to justify major cuts in education funding,” Falwell said. “Instead, he invited many college presidents to serve on the commission and look for ways to improve education and make it affordable and accessible to as many Virginians as possible. He should be commended for his leadership.”
McDonnell has set a goal of graduating 100,000 more degrees in the next 15 years.

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

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.”

McDonnell plans to use the $50 million investment in several areas, including $13 million for undergraduate financial assistance; $1 million to enhance classroom technology; $3 million to expand online courses; $3 million for VTAG grants; and $30 million to increase enrollment, graduation and retention rates, and math, science, technology and engineering degrees.
The higher education reform legislation awaits a Senate vote.

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