Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

For-Profit Colleges and the Student Debt Apocalypse

Graduates from for-profit colleges account for a disproportionate share of student loan defaults.

Graduates from for-profit colleges account for a disproportionate share of student loan defaults.

Tressie McMillan Cottom worked as an enrollment officer at two for-profit technical colleges before she went on to earn a PhD., join the faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University, and write a book, “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.”

Cottom says that for-profit colleges get one important thing right: They invest resources in the front-end process of helping students enroll: everything from applying for financial aid to having their textbooks waiting for them on the first day of class. But she, like many other critics of for-profit education, is concerned by the high indebtedness and high default rate of students. Those who attend for-profit colleges represent only 26% of all borrowers but account for 35% of federal loan defaults.

The high default rate is a sign of the trouble graduates have finding quality, high-paying jobs, Cottom told Karin Kapsidelis, higher ed writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. For-profit colleges are a varied lot. While some deliver value for the students’ investment, others are marketing machines designed to enroll students and collect revenue with little heed to results. “The profit motive changes everything. It means that instead of helping students, you’re selling students.”

The industry took off when the financial sector figured out how to make money from it, Cottom says. Wall Street underwrote for-profit educational enterprises to “monetize” peoples’ aspirations and their faith in education as the way to improve their lives.

Writes Cottom in the introduction to her book:

Lower Ed refers to credential expansion created by structural changes in how we work, unequal group access to favorable higher education schemes, and the risk shift of job training, from states and companies to individuals and families, exclusively for profit. Lower Ed is the subsector of high-risk post-secondary schools and colleges that are part of the same system as the most elite institutions. In fact, Lower Ed can exist precisely because elite Higher Ed does. The latter legitimizes the education gospel while the former absorbs all manner of vulnerable groups who believe in it: single mothers, downsized workers, veterans, people of color, and people transitioning from welfare to work.

Bacon’s bottom line: No question, the high default rate is a huge problem — student indebtedness is creating a new class of Americans who have little hope of paying back their tuition and, as the law stands now, little chance of discharging their debts through loan forgiveness or bankruptcy like overextended homeowners can do. But I am concerned by how many people, including, Ms. Cottom, it seems, blame the problem on for-profit institutions and the profit motive.

As the Kapsidelis story points out, for-profit colleges account for 35% of all federal loan defaults. But 65% can be traced to non-profit colleges! The driving force behind high defaults isn’t the for-profit status of the school, I would suggest, but the socioeconomic status of the student. Students from poor families are more likely to drop out and default on their debt than students from better-off families. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which are non-profit, have high default rates, too, as do institutions that cater primarily to lower-income whites and Hispanics.

For-profit institutions are motivated to accept marginal students in order to fill seats and generate revenue. But guess what, so are many non-profit institutions. They, too, have expenses to cover, salaries to pay, and bonds to finance.

The problem, I would suggest, isn’t for-profit versus non-profit, it’s the erosion in lending standards. Anyone who wants a student loan can get one. Because the repayment risk is transferred to the federal government, the college (be it for-profit or non-profit) has no skin in the game. If a college student is unprepared for college, defaults after dropping out, or fails to find a job, the institution suffers no ill consequence. Why would we expect any other result?


In Defense of Out-of-State Students

There are reasons to value foreign and out-of-state students over and above the tuition revenue they bring in.

There are reasons to value foreign and out-of-state students over and above the tuition revenue they bring in.

As recently as the 1990s, the Commonwealth of Virginia did something that would be considered unthinkable in today’s political environment — it subsidized 25% of the tuition of out-of-state students enrolled in Virginia’s public colleges and universities. Legislators believed there was a value to attracting bright young people to the Old Dominion.

In two-and-a-half decades, says Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), public policy has done a U-turn: Now legislators demand that out-of-state students underwrite the education of Virginians. Students from beyond the state line pay in tuition about 160% of what it costs to educate them.

The treatment of out-of-state students has always been a prickly public policy issue, especially at Virginia’s elite, highly selective universities that turn away many Virginians. Every slot given to an outsider is one less for a Virginian. As tuition at state institutions of higher education has ratcheted ever higher over the years, making the cost of college increasingly burdensome, out-of-staters are valued for the revenue they generate.

But there are non-pecuniary reasons for recruiting non-Virginia talent. Students from other parts of the country and even overseas bring diverse perspectives that enrich the educational experience of home-grown students — what economists call the “peer” effect. They also tend to have higher SAT scores, which boosts the average SATs for the student body, lending prestige to an institution.

And now they bring in more tuition revenue than they cost. Indeed the impulse to recruit out-of-state students is so strong that universities reduce tuition through the back door — by providing financial aid to lower income students — to entice less-affluent students. The average amount of aid granted to out-of-staters exceeds the average amount awarded to in-state students at every public four-year institution by a wide margin, inspiring bills in the General Assembly to cap or limit that aid in the hope of providing tuition relief for Virginians. State law already prohibits colleges from using revenue from in-state tuition to fund aid to out-of-staters, but measures proposed (but not yet passed) by the legislature would enact even tighter limits.

The logic for capping aid to out-of-state students is self-evident: It would free up resources to make higher education more affordable for Virginians. (I discussed this issue in the previous post.)

Reasons for supporting financial aid to out-of-staters are more subtle. Think of higher education as an industry and degrees as a product, suggests Blake. “Higher ed is a great export product.” Out-of-state students pump money into the Virginia economy.

Another advantage is that many out-of-state students stay in Virginia. Some 20% stick around at least 18 months, according to a study conducted several years ago. Higher ed is a great tool for recruiting human capital to the state, says Blake. “Virginia’s economy doesn’t end at the border.”

Virginia is part of a complex, inter-connected national economy, adds Tod Massa, SCHEV research director. “We can’t think strictly in isolationist terms.”

More Fun with Higher-Ed Numbers: Financial Aid

Financial aid per student at Virginia's public, four-year colleges is higher for out-of-state students than in-state. But given high out-of-state tuition, their need is greater.

Financial aid per student at Virginia’s public, four-year colleges is higher for out-of-state students than in-state. But given high out-of-state tuition, their need is greater.

Last month I published tables showing that public Virginia colleges and universities give considerably more financial aid per student to out-of-state students than in-state students. While acknowledging that out-of-state students pay higher tuition & fees and may have greater need for assistance, I raised the question, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t Virginia universities be giving more assistance to Virginia students?”

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) invited me for a sit-down meeting to discuss the topic of financial aid with his staff experts. In light of what I learned, the story gets more complicated. I’m not sure the bottom line changes, but it’s always good to understand what goes into the data.

The figures I published last month represented “gross” financial aid provided by Virginia institutions from their own funds (not including federal grants and loans or private scholarships). But that “gross” number lumps together several types of assistance. It includes loans that students must repay (which, though helpful, is not as beneficial as a grant or scholarship). It includes work arrangements, in which students actually earn their aid. And it includes athletic scholarships and waivers for military personnel. In terms of impact, the latter two categories of aid are the most important.

As a rule, universities hand out athletic scholarships to recruit top talent regardless of where the athlete is from. “If you’re trying to get the best athletes, you’re residency blind,” says Lee Andes, SHEV’s assistant director for financial aid. Because out-of-state students pay higher tuition than in-state, an athletic scholarship for an out-of-state student is more valuable, and it inflates the numbers for out-of-state aid. But athletic scholarships are doled out by coaches, not admissions officers.

Also, federal law mandates that colleges across the country provide in-state tuition to military personnel, even if their official domicile is in another state. For accounting purposes, these tuition breaks are classified as “waivers,” and they are counted as out-of-state financial aid.

For purposes of comparing in-state versus out-of-state financial aid, SCHEV calculates what it calls “net” Cost of Attendance (COA). Taking into account aid that college admissions have discretion over, SCHEV excludes scholarships, military waivers, loans and work.

Let’s walk through the numbers step by step so you understand where they come from. First we have the Gross Cost of Attendance. This “sticker price” is usually what you see quoted. Here is the breakdown by public, four-year institutions for the Gross Cost of Attendance for one year:

Just as many auto buyers don’t pay the full asking prices, many college students don’t either. Here’s the annual Net Cost of Attendance at each institution after adjusting for institutional financial aid. (These are average numbers. Some students will pay the full freight and others will pay significantly less, generally based upon their financial need.)

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Tech, Carilion Launch VTC Innovation Fund

The VTC Innovation Fund will build the innovation ecosystem centered on the Jefferson College of Health Science.

The VTC Innovation Fund will build the innovation ecosystem centered on the Jefferson College of Health Science.

Virginia Tech and Carilion Clinic have teamed up to form a $15 million venture capital fund in the hope of accelerating the growth of biotech companies taking root around Blacksburg and Roanoke, reports the Roanoke Times.

The VTC Innovation Fund aims to close seven to 10 deals over the next 10 years. By leveraging its money from other financial sources, managers hope the average startup will be able to raise between $2 million and $10 million. About 60% of the deals will be in life sciences. Although the main focus will be the Roanoke-Blacksburg area, the fund will consider investments elsewhere in Virginia or enterprises with strong ties to Tech or Carilion.

“When we looked at our grand vision going forward, we see that the innovation ecosystem has a few holes in it,” Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands said. “One is in the venture capital area. It’s not the only one, but it’s one we identified that we could do something about.”

Virginia Tech and Carilion are partnering to build a medical school and research institute in Roanoke, the Jefferson College of Medical Sciences, which stands at the center of what they hope will evolve into a biomedical industry cluster. Tech also is building a cutting-edge interdisciplinary program in neuroscience.

The Tech/Carilion duo is following a parallel path to Inova Health System in Northern Virginia, which is collaborating with George Mason University and the University of Virginia to build an biomedical cluster at the Center for Personalized Medicine. Inova has pledged to put $100 million in to venture capital in support of the innovation ecosystem there.

A third partner in the VTC Innovation Fund is Middleland Capital, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm, which will manage the Roanoke fund and invest $500,000 to $1.5 million of its own capital, reports the Washington Business Journal. Connections with experienced Washington-area venture investors likely will provide a depth of expertise and access to outside capital that entrepreneurs in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area previously lacked.

“We want to focus on the absolute best and the absolute brightest and the shining stars of the region,” said Scott Horner, managing director of Middleland. “We want groups from outside the region to be able to look here and say, ‘Yes there is good stuff in the region.’”

How Much in Tax Breaks Does Harvard Really Need?

Harvard, which has a $36.5 billion endowment (2015), is the biggest beneficiary of any university of the U.S. tax code.

The 281 public universities studied by the Nexus Research and Policy Center received $7,000 a year per student in state support on average over the past three years. But that sum pales in comparison to the indirect support, in the form of tax breaks for endowments, enjoyed by the larger private universities.

Gifts to university endowments are exempt from taxation as are earnings of the endowments themselves, wrote Mark Schneider and Jorge Klor de Alva in a Washington Post op-ed last week. Over the past three years 52 private universities with endowments of over $1 billion have received an average annual taxpayer subsidy per student amounting to more than $26,000 — almost four times as much.

Not only do the wealthiest private schools (and a handful of richly endowed public institutions such as the University of Virginia) receive the biggest tax boosts, the riches are far more likely to be bestowed upon the offspring of America’s highest-income families.

Write Schneider and de Lava:

Students from families in the top 1 percent of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend the most elite universities (the eight Ivy League colleges, plus four others) than are students from families in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution. …

One consequence of that disproportionate flow of taxpayer dollars to the elite private universities is that last year, according to federal statistics, the billion-dollar-plus campuses were able to spend over $41,000 on instructional services for each student. In contrast, regional campuses spent only about a quarter as much ($10,700) on instruction per student.

Bacon’s bottom line: Liberals and progressives focus on the U.S. income tax code as a tool for income redistribution and economic leveling. The problem is that raising income tax rates engenders tax-avoidance behavior, creates disincentives to work, and does not result in the hoped-for gusher of tax revenue. Perhaps egalitarians should redirect their attention to the portion of the U.S. tax code that favors university foundations instead.

Because of the tight correlation between income and SAT scores, the nation’s top universities cater largely to the “one percent.” Graduates of elite institutions enjoy not only the advantage of higher family incomes than other Americans,  better high school educations, and the opportunity to forge relationships with the plutocrats of the future, they attend institutions where massive tax privileges lavish them with the richest of academic and campus experiences.

Consider this: Harvard’s $36 billion endowment (2015 numbers) has the capacity to generate $2.2 billion a year in income (assuming a modest 6% return on investment). Assuming the top corporate tax rate of 35%, that amounts to a tax subsidy of about $750 million a year. That is comparable to the $844 million in state support Virginia provides to UVa, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University combined. And that doesn’t include the tax breaks — a double-dipper benefit — for the alumni and philanthropists who donate to Harvard!

As Malcom Gladwell observes in his widely downloaded “My Little Hundred Million” podcast, a handful of elite universities receive the lion’s share of donations and benefactions. Gladwell’s focus is on the philanthropists, as opposed to the tax breaks they enjoy, but the point is much the same. An extra $100 million donated to Harvard or Stanford will create a tiny incremental gain to society. But the same gift donated to a middling institution can have a tremendous impact.

Why does U.S. tax policy encourage the continued showering of benefits upon the cognitive/income 1%, while the institutions catering to the rest of America are left scrounging for  crumbs? If liberals and progressives — and conservatives, too, because we don’t like to live in an oligarchy any more than anyone else — want to even the playing field, I would suggest that it makes far more sense to target tax breaks for rich endowments.

Virginia Colleges Spend Millions on Federal Regs

Federal regulations add measurably to the cost of running Virginia colleges and universities.

Federal regulations add measurably to the cost of running Virginia colleges and universities.

The University of Virginia estimates that it spends $20 million a year complying with unfunded federal mandates, just for its academic division, reports Karin Kapsidelis with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The College of William & Mary estimates its compliance costs at $4.5 million to $6.7 million, and Virginia Commonwealth University puts the number at $13 million.

The estimates come in response to a Congressional request for information as part of a review of federal review of unfunded mandates. Higher ed institutions say the costs were likely underestimated due to the short turnaround time for providing the figures.

While universities have blamed federal regulations in the past for pushing up the cost of higher education, Virginia institutions are not necessarily eager to roll them all back. Reports Kapsidelis:

“There are rules that if no one else put them on us, we would put them on ourselves,” said Samuel E. Jones, W&M’s senior vice president for finance and administration.

“There are some requirements we might want to take a hedge clipper to and not an ax,” said Gary Nimax, U.Va.’s assistant vice president for compliance. …

“We’re just waiting to see what might change,” said Nimax. … . “The idea of having fewer regulations is an attractive one.” But U.Va. would like to see the focus on cutting “the non-value-added pieces of these requirements,” he said.

Prime offenders are the Clery Act, which requires extensive reports on campus crime statistics that run nearly 1oo pages long, and Title IX, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in higher ed. The initial focus on campus athletic programs under Title IX has expanded to the regulation of student sexual behavior.

Bacon’s bottom line: For purposes of comparison, the University of Virginia generates roughly $500 million a year in tuition revenue and gets another $150 million in state support. The $20 million regulatory burden amounts to 3% of those two sources of revenue. An argument can be made that federal regulations do contribute to the mushrooming costs of higher education, but insofar as universities’ priorities mirror those of the federal government — how many institutions would dismantle their Title IX bureaucracies? — it would be unrealistic to expect that deregulation would save much money.

Update: In an article about the growing self-censorship of faculty members due to fear of transgressing some politically correct taboo, the Wall Street Journal quotes Dale Carpenter, a Southern Methodist University law professor:

Universities have developed entire bureaucracies to combat the problem of discrimination and a hostile environment. Those bureaucracies are needed but the also tend to feed on their own momentum.

Frank Wagner Calls for College Tuition Freezes

Frank Wagner, Republican candidate for governor, calls for college tuition freeze.

Frank Wagner. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, has called for a tuition freeze for public colleges and universities in Virginia as soon as the state economy improves and revenues start climbing again. Moreover, in a speech delivered Friday on the Senate floor, he proposed restrictions on the funding of for financial assistance to out-of-state students.

While many General Assembly members spoke out in the 2017 session against runaway tuition increases, Wagner is the first candidate for statewide office — he’s one of four running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — to advocate a tuition freeze.

Over the last decade, he said, tuition and fees at the University of Virginia, Christopher Newport University and Virginia Commonwealth University have more than doubled, while the cost has tripled at the College of William & Mary.

“We have to stop balancing the budget on the backs of Virginia’s college students,” said Wagner. “This path is unsustainable for Virginia students and their families and for society as a whole.”

Wagner proffered several possible remedies. He backed a “freeze” in tuition and fees, adding that tuition and fees should not increase during the four years a student is in school. Roughly half the increase in tuition (though not fees, room or board) can be attributed to cuts in state funding. As the economy improves, he said, state tax revenues from improved economic growth should be “set aside for colleges and universities so we can reduce the burden on the students.”

He also recommended capping tuition increases either by the Consumer Price Index or the National Wage Average Index, declaring, “There has to be some nexus between what our colleges and universities need to operate and what is happening in the real world.”

In a related issue, Wagner suggested prohibiting the use of in-state tuition revenue for the purpose of providing financial assistance, and prohibiting the use state tax revenue or debt proceeds toward financial assistance for out-of-state-students. While Virginia institutions provide almost as much financial aid to out-of-state students as to in-state students (and more per recipient), the extent to which out-of-state aid is funded by tuition as opposed to other money sources is not clear, and he provided no specifics.

His gubernatorial campaign website provides no additional specifics.

Bacon’s bottom line: Wagner is leaving a lot of room for leeway here. A wage freeze is one thing, indexing tuition increases is another. He clearly thinks the state has a role in holding down rates by bolstering state aid to universities, but he sounds like he thinks universities bear some responsibility, too. He needs to get more specific about exactly what he’s proposing. But I’m betting he’ll get some traction. College tuition may not be not a top-tier issue like jobs and K-12 education, but it’s definitely a solid second-tier issue. It will be interesting to see how the public responds.

Update: State law already requires colleges to charge out-of-state students at least 100% of the cost of their education, including capital costs. In practice out-of-staters cover 160% of their costs on average, according to Peter Blake, director of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). Additionally, state law also prohibits the use of in-state tuition revenue for financial aid. The only state funding for out-of-state students is in the form of graduate financial aid, which often has a work component tied to it, Blake says.

George Mason Achieves R1 Research Classification

Frank Krueger (left) is co-director of the Center for the Study of Neuro-economics. Photo credit: George Mason University.

George Mason University has received the coveted “R1” status bequeathed by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Only 115 institutions across the country earn the “highest research activity” designation.

States the cover story of the winter edition of Mason Spirit magazine:

About 20 years ago, Mason thoughtfully began building a research portfolio that ranged from public policy to the physical sciences. Mason’s total research expenditures were nearly $27 million in 1995, increasing to about $65 million in 2005, and jumping to $101 million in 2016. The university is setting its sights high and aiming or $250 million by 2025.

Bacon’s bottom line: From an economic development perspective, Mason’s climb to R1 status is a strong positive. Northern Virginia needs a strong research university to bolster the region’s biomedical and IT sectors.

From an undergraduate student perspective, however, the R&D emphasis is a mixed blessing. Stronger research programs create opportunities for some undergrads. GMU’s engineering program, for instance, has built extensive partnerships with Northern Virginia industry that makes summer internships more readily available. But boosting research is expensive — lab facilities and star faculty don’t come cheap. Building research programs puts pressure on university administrations to increase tuition. Between the 2006-07 school year and the 2015-16 school year, the cost of in-state attendance at GMU increased 57%, more than the 53% average for all of Virginia’s public, four-year schools.

The trade-offs are complicated. Which delivers more value to Virginians — economic development opportunities stemming from R&D or from lower barriers to attendance for undergraduate students? You won’t find those questions highlighted in the glossy, university magazines.

Ian Baucom’s Plan to Change the World

Ian Baucom, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

Ian Baucom, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Big Thinker on Campus.

As the University of Virginia approaches the 200th anniversary of its 1819 founding, university officials are thinking big. Very big. Change-the-world big. The university aspires to raise $4 billion over the course of a ten-year fund-raising campaign, and it has established a vision to match.

“What will it take to extend the unique promise of this place in the next century?”asked Ian Baucom, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences when addressing a gathering of UVa alumni at Richmond’s five-star Jefferson Hotel last night. His answer: Secure the university’s capacity “to bend the arc of history.” And not just on a national scale, but a global scale.

UVa’s newly defined mission is to evolve from a premier state university into an actor on the world stage addressing what Baucom called “seemingly insolvable global challenges.” Issues such as water scarcity and human health; religious pluralism and religious violence; understanding the neuroscience of autism and anxiety. In the process, UVa will produce a new generation of citizen-leaders, equipping young men and women to participate in a democratic society and contribute to the common good.

The new vision comes at a time that the university is undergoing “the largest turnover of faculty since the founding,” Baucom said, who came to UVa in 2014 after seventeen years at Duke University. The College of Arts & Science expects to hire 200 new faculty members within the next seven to ten years as the Boomer generation retires. The opportunity exists to hire the brightest young minds in the country, strengthen the university’s Ph.D. programs and bolster the university’s status as a world-class educational institution.

As part of this transformation, UVa is “re-imagining” the curriculum, Baucom said. Without going into details about how the current curricular requirements have gone astray — he merely said that it is possible to graduate without getting a grounding in writing on the one hand or math and science on the other — he described an overhaul that is scheduled to be executed by the 2017-2018 school year.

The curricular reform is not a matter of “tweaking” requirements but of thoroughly rethinking the meaning of a liberal arts education. One centerpiece, said Baucom, will be instilling a capacity to ask ethical questions — not to force-feed students the answers, but to teach them to work through the issues and reach their own answers. Another is to experience the arts “as a way of grasping the complexity and wonder of the world.”

On a more practical level, UVa’s new curriculum will hone students’ writing skills and teach them to use data as a way to understand “a world grounded in statistical and quantitative fact.”

The liberal arts should be rooted in “deep knowledge,” not just workplace skills, Baucom said. A core competency for liberal arts graduates should be the ability to express themselves well in writing, which he sees as “the articulation of thought.” He has taught at Yale, Duke and UVa, elite schools all, and has encountered students who cannot put together a grammatical, well-ordered essay. At UVa, some 30% of students test out of the university writing requirement. That will change. Mastery of writing will become a core of the curriculum. “Tweeting is not an education in how to express yourself.”

Also critical is a familiarity with data and numbers. In an age of “big data,” every profession and discipline is saturated with statistics. “Computation and data science are transforming everything.” Technology is transforming the world, creating the potential for good and bad. According to one analysis, he said, by 2050, between 25% and 40% of the workforce will be unemployable. Not unemployed, but unemployable — unable to find a job. (I believe he was referring to the world’s workforce, not the U.S., but my notes are not clear.)

To prepare UVa students for such a future, Baucom foresees more required courses and more inter-disciplinary courses. He anticipates philosophers co-teaching with biologists, historians with mathematicians. Students will be taking first-year classes in ethics and empiricism.

When asked about a recent letter issued by faculty and students expressing unhappiness with the university’s glorification of Thomas Jefferson, a slave-holder, Baucom said that he “fundamentally disagrees.” The signatories have a right to express their opinions, but he believes that they are “wrong-headed.” In an implied slap against the suppression of politically incorrect views on college campuses, he said that a university should be a place where “incredibly complicated” issues should be debated.

“It is not our job to tell students what to think. It is our job to teach them how to think,” he said. “We can’t tell them the right moral disposition.”

When addressing alumni, Baucom certainly emphasized Jefferson’s genius, vision and leadership. “We were founded by a revolutionary,” he said. And UVa needs to carry on in the same spirit as we live through “the revolutions of our times.”

Do Virginia Universities Give Excessive Aid to Out-of-State Students?

Virginia’s four-year public universities provided $188 million in institutional & financial aid to in-state students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to data provided by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). This represents university funds only, excluding federal, state and private sources. Virginia colleges divvied up the sum between nearly 44,000 students. The average dispensation: about $4,300 per recipient.

Now, compare that to what Virginia universities provided out-of-state students.

Almost as much money — $164 million — for only 13,700 out-of-state students. Average dispensation: almost $12,000 per student. That’s more than $7,600 more than the average in-state student gets.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Virginia’s public universities doled out totals ranging between 33% and three times more to out-of-state students than in-state students. The ratio varied widely between Christopher Newport, which treated in/out-of-states most equally, and Old Dominion University, which showed the greatest disparity.

What’s going on? Why would Virginia institutions treat out-of-state students so handsomely? Part of the reason is that they charge non-Virginians higher tuition — about $16,000 per student more, on average, across the higher ed system. If they pay greater tuition, their financial need may be greater.

Another part of the story is that out-of-state students, on average, are more desirable to Virginia universities. Either they have higher SAT scores or they meet university goals for recruiting low-income or minority students. These factors affect an institution’s prestige in relationship to its peers

Legislation before the General Assembly this session would forbid colleges from using in-state tuition revenues to pay for financial aid and would restrict the amount of out-of-state tuition that could be applied to financial aid. Tuition- and financial aid-reform bills have been bottled up in the state Senate Finance Committee by Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg.

Norment is both a graduate and employee of the College of William & Mary, which doles out financial aid worth an astonishing $18,000 on average to out-of-state students. (Of course, their cost of attendance is a mind-blowing $55,000.)

It’s not clear from the SCHEV data how much, if any, financial aid comes from tuition on students paying the full freight. But one thing is indisputable: Out-of-state students are getting a lot more financial aid than in-state students. Which raises the question: Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t Virginia universities be giving more assistance to Virginia students?