Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

Who Would Have Guessed It? Virginians Want Lower College Tuitions.

Graphic source: VCU. (Click for larger, more legible image.)

One more result from VCU’s Commonwealth Education Poll… The pollsters asked an interesting question. If a public university has funds donated by alumni or philanthropists — we’re talking private money here, not public — should the institution use it to reduce tuition & fees, expand facilities or hire more faculty? Hands-down winner: make college more affordable.

Four out of five parents of a Virginia college student said they wanted reduced tuition & fees. Although VCU asked a different question than Partners 4 Affordable Excellence did in its recent poll, the results are consistent.

Higher ed affordability may not be the biggest issue in the minds of the electorate — Virginians are more concerned about jobs and K-12 — but it is potent nonetheless. Consider that parents of college students and prospective college students tend to be better educated and earn higher incomes, which means they tend to vote in greater numbers than the average Virginian. That’s a powerful voting bloc. Gubernatorial candidates would do well to target this demographic.

My main fear is that politicians will advocate simplistic solutions that will wreak havoc on Virginia’s higher ed system, which, for all its flaws, does a pretty good job. I see higher-ed reform as akin to brain surgery — highly invasive but requiring a delicate hand.

UVa Professors Working Harder than You Think

 UVa professors do a lot more work than shows up on the Internet.

Siva Vaidhyanathan: UVa professors do a lot more work than shows up on the Internet. Photo credit: C-VILLE Weekly.

A few days ago, I delivered a rap on the knuckles to Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. He had made what I found to be a remarkable statement in a radio interview: “The university systems throughout the state of Virginia are running lean. They’re serving students very well.” Really? Universities that had hiked tuitions 75% over the past decade were “running lean?”

In that post, I observed that UVa’s media studies department of 24 professors and lecturers was offering only 39 courses, and that lecturers had much bigger teaching loads than the professors. Moreover, I noted, Vaidhyanathan himself is not teaching a course this semester, offering the possibility that he was on sabbatical. What does that say about faculty productivity? It looked like UVa was paying big money — Vaidhyanathan $253,000 in 2014 — to spend time on research and writing instead of teaching.

Well, Vaidhyanathan saw the blog post and reached out. We had a friendly chat Monday. He credited me with asking “trenchant”  questions, but said there was more to the story that what I had conveyed in my blog post. In the spirit of exploring all sides of the higher education controversy, I summarize here what he had to say.

The reason he’s not teaching any classes this semester, Vaidhyanathan said, is that he is one of twelve faculty members selected by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to redesign the curricula. He has been involved full-time delving into the scholarship of teaching and in the design of new courses.

The College of Arts and Sciences requires students to take a minimum number of courses in math and natural sciences, the social sciences, history, non-Western perspectives, and humanities. Often, students take a checklist approach to areas outside their major, often gravitating to easy courses or professors and not getting much out of the experience.

A few years ago, he says, UVa professors began asking whether the process was really beneficial to students or just an exercise in catalog shopping. “We want students to understand the thought in all these areas, learn how scientists think, understand what the debates are in the humanities,” Vaidhyanathan said. “Can we restructure at least the first-year experience to give students a better tour of the modes of thought?”

Faculty members do more than teach courses, by the way. They advise students. “Even though I’m not teaching any courses this semester,” he said, I meet with two students who are writing theses. I’m meeting with a student doing independent study. We do all these extra things. Not to mention what we do with graduate students.”

Moreover, regarding the faculty-course ratios I mentioned in my blog post, he noted that four media studies faculty members are on research leave, paid by other universities to visit them. The average course load per professor is higher than my numbers indicated.

From what he has seen in academia, including teaching at two other universities, UVa places a high priority on teaching, Vaidhyanathan said. “Just last Wednesday, I sat through three of an assistant professor’s courses watching her teach and taking detailed notes. There’s a constant conversation on how to improve, how to try new technologies. There’s an ongoing debate on whether to use PowerPoint.”

When he taught at New York University, Vaidhyanathan was warned by his departmental chair not to place too much emphasis on teaching. The attitude there was that getting recognized as a good teacher before earning tenure marked a professor as someone who was giving insufficient attention to research. The attitude at UVa is different, he said. He sees scholarship and teaching buttressing one another. Staying on the cutting edge of one’s field makes one a better teacher; interacting with students gives perspective to the scholarship.

As astonishing as it may seem to some, Vaidhyanathan says he sees his job as a public service. He frequently asks himself, “Am I doing right by the taxpayers? Am I doing right by the students who are paying tuition?”

The best day of the year for him is graduation day, he says. “All the parents and students applaud us. I’ve never worked anywhere where that’s the case. They appreciate the work we do. It makes me feel really good.”

While he praises UVa, Vaidhyanathan concedes that it is a work in progress. He says that the institution had been “self-satisfied” for too long. “We’re no longer happy with just being listed in the Top Five public universities. That’s not really success.” UVa has had a shift in the conversation. “It’s not just about scoring well. Can we make a difference in childhood diabetes? Can we make a difference in big data research? Can we leverage our strengths to be one of the leaders?”

For too long, he said, UVa did not think strategically. That’s changing. “We’re hiring amazing young faculty members. We’re better connected to the needs of the Commonwealth than we’ve been in a long time.”

“Running Lean” at the University of Virginia

Siva Vaidhyanathan: defender of Virginia's higher ed status quo

Siva Vaidhyanathan: defender of  Virginia’s higher ed status quo

Once upon a time, the credo of American journalism was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Today, the attitude of many reporters is quite the reverse: Defend the institutional status quo against Tea Partiers, Trumpkins, rabble-rousers and other yahoos. The bias is especially evident in coverage of that most elite and privileged of establishment institutions, higher ed.

Sandy Hausman, a reporter for public radio station WVTF in Roanoke, broadcast a story recently about the effort by Helen Dragas, a former rector of the University of Virginia and board chair of Partners 4 Affordable Excellence, to make Virginia universities more accountable for skyrocketing tuition. (Full disclosure: Her organization sponsors this blog.)

Staking out a populist position on higher education, Dragas is speaking for millions of Virginia students and parents, present and future, who are paying, or will pay, unprecedented sums for a college education. As Partners 4 Excellence has noted, parents are spending 74% more to send their kids to college than they did 10 years ago. And there is no sign that the increases are slowing down.

But rather than explore the causes driving the runaway Cost of Attendance at Virginia colleges and universities, Hausman used the piece to debunk Dragas. She devoted much of the story to the remarks of Siva Vaidhyanathan, a University of Virginia media studies professor — hardly an unbiased source.

You can listen to Vaidhyanathan yourself. Suffice it to say that his observations, though not entirely without merit, were debatable. Parsing each sentence would be an exercise too tedious to engage in here. But one comment galled me.  “The university systems throughout the state of Virginia are running lean,” he said. “They’re serving students very well.”

That’s priceless coming from a professor in UVa’s media studies department. That department lists 15 professors and nine lecturers on staff. Between them, the 24 faculty members are teaching a total of 39 courses this semester. What’s particularly interesting is how the course load is distributed between professors and lecturers. The less prestigious (and presumably less well compensated) lecturers are teaching 19 courses, or an average of 2.1 courses each. The professors are teaching 20, an average of 1.3 classes each.

Ironically, Vaidhyanathan is not listed as teaching a single course this semester. Perhaps he is on sabbatical, I don’t know. He is also listed as the “Robertson Professor of Modern Media Studies,” which suggests that he sits in an endowed chair that supplements his state salary. His total gross pay, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch state salary database, was $253,000 in 2014. In other words, Vaidhyanathan is paid a salary worthy of the “1%,” not for carrying a heavy teaching load and “serving the students well” but for getting published.

He has written four books. His most recent, published in 2011, was “The Googlization of Everything And Why We Should Worry.” Judging by its Amazon.com blurb, the book actually looks pretty timely and relevant. For purposes of argument, let us grant the proposition that Vaidhyanathan is a brilliant intellect who brings credit to UVa. His employment and that of his media colleagues still is not what anyone could call “running lean.”

In examining the affordability higher ed institutions such as the University of Virginia, one of the many questions we must ask ourselves is this: Is faculty productivity improving or declining? As UVa seeks to recruit more star faculty who bring renown to the institution, what terms and conditions does it grant these superstars? How much time are they asked to teach? To how many professors is UVa paying top-drawer salaries for teaching two or three small-enrollment courses a year and spending the rest of their time writing articles and books?

It goes without saying that Vaidhyanathan and others like him would prefer to blame skyrocketing tuition on cutbacks in state aid to higher ed. The General Assembly has cut back and it does deserve a share of the blame. But reductions in state aid account for only half the increase in tuition, and only a fifth of the total cost of attendance when fees, room, board and other expenses are thrown in.

How many administrators does UVa employ, and what are they paid? How many faculty does UVa employ, and how are they compensated? How much does the institution spend on sports programs? How much on marketing to students with the goal of inflating applications and looking exclusive? How much has the competition for out-of-state students with high SAT scores led the university to upgrade dormitories, dining facilities, gymnasiums, and recreational facilities? There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but they are all worth asking. Too bad Virginia journalists aren’t interested.

Time to Disinvest in Higher Education?

Richard Vedder: heretic

Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, suggests that the United States might be overinvested in higher education. We might be spending billions of dollars as a society on activity of marginal value.

Arguably, one of the most important functions of higher education in America is signalling to employers that a given individual is intelligent, industrious, and otherwise employable. Many students learn few job-relevant skills in college, Vedder writes in Forbes. As an alternative to spending four years in college, he suggests giving students tests certifying to skills and competencies demanded by employers.

Government subsidies and private philanthropy have prevented a healthy disinvestment in higher education from occurring,” he says. “Few colleges ever fail. … America could use the failure of at least 500 colleges over the next decade to assist in needed resource allocation.”

“If we were to spend, say, one-third less than we do on colleges,” Vedder writes, “we would lose relatively little output from declining labor productivity, and if those savings were invested in other productive ways, we likely on balance would be materially ahead of where we are today.”

(Hat tip: Dwayne Lunsford.)

Bacon’s bottom line: If Americans want to enjoy college as a luxury good — going to frat parties, cheering at football games, participating in late-night dormitory bull sessions, taking classes on obscure topics that will do them absolutely no good in the real world — and if parents want to pay for that activity, well, it’s a free country. People can do what they like.

But should public policy be blindly subsidizing millions of Americans to partake of the residential campus experience? What is the justification for state and federal government subsidies for higher education, if not to prepare Americans to participate in the workplace? There is a compelling public interest creating economic opportunity for all. There is no compelling public interest in immersing students in 18th-century English novels or the tenets of Tibetan religion.

Should Lawmakers Cap College Tuition Increases?

Now for something totally different — the first poll in the 14-year history of Bacon’s Rebellion!

I would say that I offer this poll in response to popular demand, but that would be misleading. No one but Bacon’s Rebellion‘s skeptic-in-chief, Larry Gross, AKA LarrytheG, has been agitating for polls. Moreover, I know that I will catch unmitigated grief for biasing the results by the way I frame the poll questions, thus creating another set of headaches for myself! But I plunge ahead in the conviction that polls will increase reader engagement. Indeed, I would go one step further and invite readers to compose their own poll questions and responses. I will happily consider them.

Accordingly, I have concocted the following in response to Larry’s challenge in a comment on the previous blog post to address the following topic:

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”2″]

It goes without saying, please vote only once. If I find evidence of cheating, I will have to search for a poll that restricts voters to those who register with the blog, which makes it more laborious for readers to participate, and it means I’ll be spending more time on technology/administrative tasks at which I am incompetent and less time writing blog posts for all the world to enjoy.

Update: I encourage you to elaborate upon the reasons for your vote in the comments section.

Virginia Higher Ed Faces Legislative Backlash

Virginia higher ed, and the University of Virginia in particular, are facing toughest General Assembly scrutiny in twenty years.

Virginia higher ed, and the University of Virginia in particular, are facing toughest General Assembly scrutiny in twenty years.

Frustration with Virginia’s higher education establishment boiled over during a press conference in the state Capitol building this morning as 15 senators and delegates from both political parties expressed their intention to curtail tuition hikes at public colleges and universities.

Legislators have introduced some 20 bills so far in the 2017 session addressing affordability and access at Virginia universities, and they expect more will be filed. A primary source of concern is how the state’s elite institutions are steering millions of dollars into financial aid to out-of-state students even as Virginians find the cost of attendance increasingly unaffordable.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, a graduate of the College of William & Mary, decried the high percentage of out-of-state students at his alma mater. Referring tongue-in-cheek to William & Mary as “the College of New Jersey-Williamsburg campus,” he said, “We need more in-state students.”

The University of Virginia is spending $20 million to $30 million in scholarships for out-of-state students, said Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield. He found that dispensation ironic given the fact that “for years we were told we needed out-of-state students to fund the schools.”

Another source of resentment was the accumulation of large financial reserves, particularly at the University of Virginia. UVa had cobbled together a $2.2 billion “strategic investment fund,” expected to generate $100 million a year in investment returns, even as the board of visitors raised tuition aggressively and lobbied for more state support.

The press conference followed the release of a poll released yesterday by Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @ EDU, a group created to fight runaway college tuition hikes (and a sponsor of this blog). That poll of registered Virginia voters found that a large majority overwhelmingly believe that the cost of college attendance is too high and support greater transparency of university budgets and decision-making.

Dr. James V. Koch, a former president of Old Dominion University and president of Partners 4 Affordable Excellence, opened the event with a review of data. Since 2000, he said, the Consumer Price Index had increased 35.2%. Over that same period the national Higher Ed Price Index had jumped 52.9%. In Virginia, the cost of in-state tuition and fees had shot up even faster, even as incomes have stagnated. The number of work-hours that it took a Virginian earning the median hourly wage to pay average tuition and fees for a four-year college increased from 227 in 2001-2002 to 438 this year.

Bills before the General Assembly would cap the percentage of out-of-state students at 25% at Virginia higher ed institutions, forbid colleges from using in-state tuition revenues to pay for financial aid, restrict the amount of out-of-state tuition that could be applied to financial aid, and limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation, among other measures.

University officials justify high enrollments of non-Virginians on the grounds that out-of-state students on average pay 160% of the tuition cost, in effect subsidizing Virginia residents. If lawmakers cut out-of-state enrollments, they will increase pressure on universities to jack up in-state tuition. Also, providing financial aid to some out-of-state students, they argue, is necessary to make attendance affordable for lower-income students and preserve socio-economic and racial diversity.

Del. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, was more concerned with helping poor, minority Virginia students. In Virginia, the percentage of students receiving Pell grants for low-income students is around 20%, the lowest rate in the nation, he said. The reason for the low participation, he explained, is that tuition, fees and other costs are so high in the Old Dominion that low-income students can’t afford to attend. Poor Virginian students should be first in line for student loans, he contended.

A similar argument was advanced by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, who represents an district in far southwest Virginia. As unaffordable as costs are for a family in affluent, suburban Fairfax County, he said, they create an insurmountable barrier for many families in Appalachia.

While legislators at the press conference shared a common concern about the cost of Virginia higher ed, they indicated no agreement upon which bills to support. Indeed, the issue of financial aid may prove divisive. While Spruill and Kilgore focused on the need of their lower-income constituents, a disproportionate percentage of of whom rely upon financial aid, other lawmakers represented middle-class households who are tired of seeing some of their tuition money diverted to financial aid for others.

“The high tuition, high aid model is out of control,” said Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. Continue reading

Poll: Virginians Unhappy with Runaway Tuition

A large majority of Virginia voters favor restricting tuition increases to the Cost of Living.

A large majority of Virginia voters favor restricting tuition increases to the Cost of Living. Source: Partners for Affordable Excellence poll

Virginia’s public colleges and universities have a big P.R. problem. Eighty-eight percent of Virginia voters think they are too expensive, according to a poll released this morning, and three quarters say they should not be allowed to increase tuition faster than the cost of living.

Furthermore, a large majority of voters said they want greater transparency into university budgets, and responded that university trustees should put the interests of students, families and taxpayers before the ambitions of university administrators.

The poll of 600 registered voters was conducted in early January by Public Opinion Strategies and Lake Research Partners. The underwriter was Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @ EDU, a sponsor of this blog. Founded in response to the rising cost of college attendance, the organization’s mission is to bring about change at America’s premier public research universities “in ways that maintain or enhance academic excellence and result in affordable tuition.”

Traditionally, the public policy debate in Virginia over higher-ed affordability and accessibility has revolved around the level of financial aid provided by state government. Universities defend higher tuitions as a justifiable response to reductions in state support. A recent report to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) found that cuts accounted for about half the increase in tuition over the past 20 years and about 14% of the total Cost of Attendance (which encompasses student fees, room, board and other costs as well as tuition).

Re-framing the debate, the Partners poll focused on policies within the control of universities, such as the percentage out-of-state students, financial aid, administrative waste, the prestige arms race, and, specifically, the University of Virginia’s accumulation of $2.2 billion in “unspent money” in its Strategic Investment Fund. (See poll results and pollsters’ commentary here.)

“This is the first in-depth look at voters’ views on an issue of critical importance to the state’s economic well-being,” said James V. Koch, president of Partners 4 Affordable Excellence and a former president of Old Dominion University. “When it comes to economic growth, Virginia has trailed the nation for the last six years. How we change the narrative can’t be viewed in a vacuum, and making higher education more affordable can lead to more jobs and improve Virginia’s economic vitality.”

“This poll confirms what many of us have thought for years — college costs are out of control and there is a clear link between affordability and economic success of every Virginia family,” said Helen Dragas, Partners board chair and former rector of the University of Virginia.

While the out-of-control escalation of the Cost of Attendance is not on a par with K-12 education, job creation and even traffic congestion among voter’s top concerns, it is “a strong second-tier priority” with 23% of those polled ranking it No. 1 or No. 2, the pollsters concluded. That scoring placed college affordability somewhat lower than crime & drugs but significantly higher than the environment, recreation areas & open space.

On the positive side, 84% of voters classified Virginia higher-ed institutions as “among the best” in the country. On the other hand 75% described them as too expensive.

The poll also found strong support for requiring at least 75% of the state’s undergraduate students be Virginia residents. Sixty percent of voters agreed with that proposition. Although Republicans were most likely to agree (71%), a majority of independents (61%) and Democrats (51%) went along as well. That finding can be construed as good news for Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, who has submitted a bill, HB 1410, this session that would require 75% of the undergraduates at all but three state universities to be comprised of Virginians. If enacted, the bill would impact the three institutions with out-of-state enrollments exceeding 25%: the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary, and James Madison University. Continue reading

Mining the VCU Report for Trends

There’s loads of interesting data in Virginia Commonwealth University’s new report on the university’s impact on Virginia and the Richmond region. I see no need to summarize the report’s main conclusions — I refer you to the executive summary posted here, re-published on this blog in partnership with the VCU Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. Rather, I dove into the report this morning to see what I might discover, and I surfaced with several pearls of data.

VCU fall enrollment ten-year trend.

Overall enrollment trends. After experiencing a growth spurt through 2009, hitting a high of 32,434 students, enrollment at VCU has declined modestly since then, by 1,192. Beneath the seemingly placid surface of small year-to-year changes, there has been tremendous churn. Undergraduate enrollment has continued to surge, increasing 25% over the 10-year period shown above. But graduate enrollment has declined by 33%.

The report gives no explanation for the drastic fall-off in graduate programs. Were budgets cut? Did the programs lose competitiveness compared to other institutions? Did graduate enrollments tumble nationally, or was this a VCU phenomenon?

Judging by a separate table showing the number of degrees granted, the fall-off seems to be concentrated in the schools of Education and Humanities & Sciences. Graduate degrees granted by the School of Business increased, while most other remained stable. The root of the phenomenon is probably specific to Education and Humanities.

Should it be a source of concern to see VCU losing ground in the production of post-graduate degrees? Not necessarily. When it comes to creating economic value, not all degrees are created equal. Graduate business, medical or engineering degrees, in which VCU held its own, are arguably in greater demand in the workforce than, say, psychology, history or English degrees. On the other hand, I’m not aware of any diminution in demand for teachers, so the reason for the decline in education M.A. is not immediately apparent. Whatever the case may be, that’s an economic analysis I would love to read.


Minority enrollment. The number of minority enrollments are up over the 10-year period. The main gains have come from Hispanics, Asians and students identifying as multi-race. However, African-American enrollment has declined, and the American Indian/Alaskan student population in 2015 has become so negligible that it cannot be perceived by the naked eye on VCU’s chart.

Two notes of interest: First, I am astonished by the large percentage — well over 10% — of the students classifying themselves as multi-racial. That number is large and growing, probably reflecting the increased percentage of interracial marriages and births (as opposed to, say, an increased emphasis on recruiting multi-racial students). The idea of the American melting pot, often disparaged, seems to be alive and well — at least at VCU.

Second, the decline in African-American enrollments is potentially concerning, especially given VCU’s self-declared role as an “institution of opportunity” serving first-generation college students. If this dip reflects an opening up of opportunities for black students elsewhere, this may be a positive thing. If it reflects a declining pool of college-ready black students graduating from Virginia high schools, or a perception that college is unaffordable, it is alarming. Perhaps there is another explanation entirely. Finding answers to such questions was not the purpose of the report, so the trend went un-examined. But it bears looking into. Continue reading

VCU’s Impact on the Region: Talent, Innovation and Collaboration

Executive summary

Universities, as large organizations that are anchored in their communities, can potentially have significant economic and social impacts on the immediate community, the region, and even the state. Virginia Commonwealth University’s economic impact on the Richmond region is significant. Within the metropolitan statistical area (Richmond MSA), VCU’s spending on operations, maintenance and capital investment, and the spending of its employees, students and visitors generates:

  • Total economic impact of $4 billion
  • 47,000 jobs
  • A total Richmond regional multiplier of 3.7 — for every dollar that VCU spends in the metropolitan area, the region experiences a total economic impact of $3.70.

VCU’s impact on the economy of the commonwealth of Virginia is also significant. VCU’s spending within the commonwealth generates:

  • Total economic impact of $5.9 billion
  • 63,000 jobs
  • A total commonwealth of Virginia multiplier of 3.2 — for every dollar that VCU spends in the state, the commonwealth experiences a total economic impact of $3.20.

How is this impact achieved? As VCU and its employees, students and visitors spend money purchasing needed supplies, food and services, etc., the businesses that supply these goods and services must, in turn, purchase supplies and employ workers who, in turn, use their money to purchase goods and services. The size of the multiplier reflects the extent to which the dollars circulate in the economy.

But VCU’s impact in the region and commonwealth extends well beyond what is captured in the numbers. Through descriptive data, as well as focus groups and interviews with businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and other regional stakeholders, we identified VCU’s contributions in key areas that shape economic impact and the overall quality of life. These are:

Talent: VCU produces graduates whose skills meet the needs of area businesses and other organizations. As one business leader stated in a focus group, “VCU is the leader in the region’s talent pipeline.”

  • Within the Richmond metropolitan area, 67,000 VCU alumni live and work. Their degrees and skills lead to increases in the average wage, which enhances the economy overall.
  • Businesses, nonprofits and government agencies alike seek the cutting-edge solutions that VCU faculty research creates.

Continue reading

Economic Development “Reset” Needed in Virginia

John O. "Dubby" Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia's outmoded approach to economic development.

John O. “Dubby” Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia’s outmoded approach to economic development. Photo credit: Pilotonline

It’s time for a “fundamental reset” for the way Virginia’s colleges and universities think about economic development, John O. “Dubby” Wynne told the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) board yesterday. Wynne, former CEO of Norfolk-based Landmark Communications, is a driving force behind the Virginia Go initiative.

“For the first time in decades, Virginia’s economy is not doing very well,” said Wynne. The problem runs deeper than federal budget sequestration’s hit to military spending or managerial issues at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Virginia needs to address major structural problems, he said.

One of those problems is the mismatch between jobs and skills in the state. Wynne quoted a figure widely used by Governor Terry McAuliffe, that 150,000 jobs in the IT sector alone are going unfilled; tens of thousands of those are in the cyber-security field. With skills shortages of that magnitude, it won’t be easy recruiting outside corporate investment, Virginia’s traditional economic development strength.

“If outside people see that you can’t take care of your existing businesses,” said Wynne, “the chances of them coming here are small.”

Since retiring from Landmark, Wynne has immersed himself in state and regional economic-development efforts. He serves as vice chairman on the state-appointed Council on Virginia’s Future and is a member of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. He worked with Dominion CEO Tom Farrell to create the Go Virginia initiative, which has received state dollars this year to spur regional and public-private collaboration to spark economic growth.

Virginia needs to produce people who can participate in the knowledge economy, and the state’s higher ed system is critical to making that happen, Wynne said. It’s an open question, though, how well the state’s colleges and universities can make economic development part of their mission. There are so many stakeholders with a voice, he said, that “it’s very hard to get movement with any kind of market speed.” Higher ed needs “to get a serious discussion going to say that it’s OK to be involved in economic development.”

Aside from workforce development, Wynne cited two strategies for Virginia higher ed to pursue. One is to do a better job of getting intellectual property out of the labs and into the market. Other states have found ways to do this; so should Virginia. He would like to see more incubators and accelerators in university communities.

The other strategy is to identify industry clusters where Virginia has particular strengths and to help create a workforce with the skills those clusters need. Collaboration is the key. As an example, he cited a 40-firm cyber-security cluster in Hampton Roads. Local educational institutions need to develop “a new model” — possibly including more “self-paced” courses — in which local industry is much more involved. Already, three cities in the region are collaborating with a regional community foundation to raise money to build the cluster. Said Wynne: “Companies will move to places helping them grow.”

“If you put all your money in the present and none in the future,” he concluded, “you won’t have a future.”