Making college more affordable, valuing public input and combating student debt were top-of-the-mind issues as Virginia’s legislators and college administrators on came together at an Ashburn Public Library town hall meeting hosted by Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.
Many questioned the rising costs of tuition and fees, wondering just why it increases year after year and what the money is truly being used for.
The answer, said Dr. Michelle Marks of George Mason University, is that “George Mason invests the money paid by students and parents into things that matter to them, such as a great quality education. It’s not only ensuing tuition affordability, but also quality education, and that we are producing students that graduate and get jobs.”
Even so, Delegate David Reid said one way to gain control of Virginia’s out-of-control rising tuition cost is to implement tuition freezes. “With the easy availability and access to loan money, institutions are going to increase tuition and fees” without much concern for how the bills get paid, he said.
To jump-start the process, Delegate Reid said he plans to introduce legislation to implement a four-year freeze on all public college and university tuition and fees.
A number of colleges and universities don’t allow for public comment on their annual tuition vote, but should they?
Delegate Karrie Delaney says yes. “When you are a consumer such as a paying parent or student,” she said, “it is important to have your voice hear when decisions about your or your child’s investment are being made.”
But ensuring that trustees who sit on the Board of Visitors are better equipped is crucial. Delegate Kathleen Murphy believes our colleges and universities are public assets, and trustees should understand exactly what the position.
“To have healthy institutions,” said Delegate Murphy, “we need to have a board that recognizes what the real issues are and presents solutions to these problems, instead of just sitting on the board solely because it is a position of honor.”
But rising costs of tuition and fees are only the beginning of the problems that paying parents and students face with public institutions.
Other ways to reduce the overall cost of attendance for students, according to Delegate Jennifer Boysko, would be “to ensure that students have a better way to pace their college timeline, such as encouraging more internships, co-ops, or even attending school one semester and working the next.”
“It is important,” she said, “that these resources and options are available to students to assist in making college more affordable and manageable.”
As for how to strike the right balance, Delegate Wendy Gooditis stated said funding for institutions should be tied to their performance outcomes, such as student retention.
“Institutions need to see a partnership between themselves and the students, as the students should be inspired to do their best work,” said Delegate Gooditis. “We need to reward those who do a really good job at that.”
Final thoughts by Delegate John Bell related to how the General Assembly could incentivize the states and institutions to better serve the public and solve affordability problems.
“We should have collaboration, such as using state resources to fund education in research-driven fields, providing these resources to those who take and lower cost, but penalizing those who continue to raise cost without reason, placing burden on the families or student debt to come,” Delegate Bell said.