How to Destroy Public Trust: Don’t Listen

University of Virginia students marching in a “no voice” protest against a 2015 tuition increase. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As a follow-up to my previous post, I draw your attention to an op-ed penned by James Toscano, president of the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust (a sponsor of this blog).

Toscano cites a September 2017 Mason-Dixon poll that asked, “How should the cost to attend Virginia’s public colleges and universities be addressed?”

Just 10 percent said colleges should be allowed to freely set tuition and fees. Overwhelmingly, 76 percent of voters said Virginia should freeze, lower, or limit tuition and fee increases to inflation.

Plainly, Virginians have serious issues of trust, and they are not alone. …

Just last year, the Association of American Colleges and Universities met to address what it called “an urgent need — expressed by educators from campuses across the country — for more effective approaches to restoring public trust in higher education.”

Considering that one of the first ways to gain confidence is simply to begin listening, you might think that 19 of Virginia’s colleges who are also association members would have gotten the message and acted — as they could have — on their own.

But apparently not.

Instead, the focus has been on killing legislation that would require public comment before votes to raise tuition and fees. Already this session, it’s happening to legislation introduced in the Virginia Senate, and the timing couldn’t be less poetic.

Not all Virginia colleges resist public oversight, notes Toscano. “But collectively, they have remained silent during legislative hearings instead of speaking in favor of the simple act of hearing from students and their parents.” Failure to advance the legislation, he warns, will “confirm the national conversation that says there’s a breach of trust between citizens and higher education.”

If Virginia’s higher-ed lobby refuses to allow public input into board decisions affecting tuition, fees and other costs of attendance, it will feed the impression that colleges and universities are arrogant, out of touch, and oblivious to the concerns of the students and parents who pay the bills. Such arrogance will inspire support for more draconian (and counter productive) measures such as HB 351. That bill, discussed in my previous post, would slap caps on tuition and out-of-state enrollment — a far greater infringement upon institutions’ autonomy.

If higher ed and its supporters in the General Assembly don’t bend, they¬† risk unleashing a storm that might break them.

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2 responses to “How to Destroy Public Trust: Don’t Listen

  1. I think they already have. In the absence of govt doing anything, people will send kids to TCC or something before they pay for 2 years at other schools, barring a miracle.

  2. You know you sorta might think with Conservatives uber low opinion of higher ed “elites” these days..squashing free speech.. and indoctrinating students with leftist propaganda that the’d easily and happily sock it to higher ed.. if nothing else just to show their ire… but I don’t think I’m seeing many GOP on that bandwagon…

    This is their big chance. Where are they?

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