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.There are currently no comments highlighted.