In October, we asked Virginia Governor-Elect Ralph Northam the following questions about college affordability and student debt. These were his answers:
Higher education is the lynch pin of the New Virginia Economy, producing a return on investment greater than any other public investment. In fact, each dollar spent on Virginia’s public higher education system produces $21 in greater gross state product (GSP) and returns $1.92 to the commonwealth’s treasury.
In the last 10 years in Virginia, average higher education costs have soared 70 percent at public four-year universities and 60 percent at community colleges.
Every Virginian deserves access to a high-quality, affordable education after high school, so he or she can succeed in the New Virginia Economy. To do that, I will prioritize greater state investment in higher education, reducing the cost of obtaining a degree, and more affordable alternative pathways.
We should give our students and their families certainty as to what the cost of a four-year education will be. As governor, I’ll implement what I call the “Virginia Promise” by working with our public universities to guarantee level tuition for returning, in-state, full-time students for a four-year term, and in return the commonwealth will provide increased direct-cost (instructional) funding to our public universities. To the extent possible, universities will guarantee financial aid packages will be the same all four years.
I’ll work with the Council of Presidents and Boards of Visitors to assure that annual increases for incoming freshmen will remain affordable and within reason. This will provide incentives for all parties to work toward increasing four-year graduation rates, lowering the costs of higher education for Virginians, and providing financial certainty on what the full four-year cost will be.
Currently, Online Virginia is a partnership between George Mason University and Old Dominion University that serves independently about 11,000 online students. My administration will include the Virginia Community College System and other interested universities to Online Virginia — we’ll create and market a centralized website for online learning at all the public colleges and universities, similar to what Georgia has done with its “Georgia ONmyLINE,” which provides information on all online degrees from community colleges and universities.
To create efficiencies and cost savings, my administration will also create a voluntary shared services center to support financial aid and back office services and business transactions for the smaller universities and colleges. This center would also serve as a centralized collection agency for universities to reconcile student accounts that are 60 to 90 days overdue before sending claims to high-interest rate collection agencies.
To implement the “Virginia Promise” — level tuition for returning full-time, in-state students — my administration will provide increased direct-cost (instructional) funding to our public universities. With this incentive, it is my hope that Virginia’s public colleges and universities will work with my administration to guarantee level tuition funding for returning full-time, in-state students.
I’ll also work with the Council of Presidents and Boards of Visitors to assure that annual increases for incoming freshmen will remain affordable and within reason. This will provide incentives for all parties to work toward increasing four-year graduation rates, lowering the costs of higher education for Virginians, and providing financial certainty on what the full four-year cost will be. Families need to be able to plan for one of the most important investments they will ever make.
Based on the Student Loan Bill of Rights legislation introduced in the 2017 General Assembly session, I will work with the General Assembly to pass legislation that requires licensure of qualified education loan servicers in the commonwealth. This will help protect students and their families from unscrupulous companies that prey on students seeking to borrow money for college and provide the commonwealth with additional enforcement mechanisms to go after those companies. Additionally, creating a statewide student loan ombudsman will provide students and recent graduates a go-to resource for information and support.