What’s Really Gone Wrong in Higher Ed

Member Group : Guest Articles

ON MAY 31, The Virginian-Pilot editorialized that legislators in Virginia
should keep "hands off higher ed." The Pilot took the position that the
General Assembly should not dictate policy to colleges. They also wrote:
"In the late 1990s Gov. Jim Gilmore, while hauling back higher education
funds, took a hard look at the school’s private donations too. It was at
that time that his administration floated the idea of a centralized
Richmond office for all of Virginia’s public campuses."

As governor, higher education was a top priority of mine. During my
administration, state general fund support for Virginia’s colleges rose
dramatically, from $8,001 to $11,108 per student. At the same time, we
reduced tuition in Virginia by 20 percent, thus shifting the
cost of college education away from tuition paid by hard-working parents
and away from the student debt necessitated by high tuition.
In addition to the increase in funding for all colleges, I added major
support for Virginia’s historically black colleges, Norfolk State and
Virginia State. We also increased grant money for those students who chose
private colleges in Virginia.

In support of the statement that I had "hauled back higher education
funds," the Pilot relied on a budget document at the end of my term in
2002, when the recession required cuts to balance the budget. It is true
that the 2002 recession forced across-the-board reductions, including for
higher education. I did, however, allow the colleges to increase tuition
up to 5 percent.

The General Assembly that year, as the Pilot’s budget document shows, did
not adopt my plan. The General Assembly gave the colleges all their state
funds, and allowed tuition to rise anyway. The document shows that the
General Assembly balanced the higher education budget by eliminating my
proposals for faculty salary increases, by cutting my support for the

Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and by dramatically cutting the
money I included for Norfolk State and Virginia State. Clearly, higher
education policy in Virginia changed when I left office. Tuition rose 21.5
percent. State support for higher education has declined from the high of
$11,101 per student during my administration to a low of $5,758 per
student by 2012. It is not, however, correct to say the I proposed a
central office for state colleges.

At that time, the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) proposed tying
state funding to college and student performance, but SCHEV’s proposal was
rejected by the General Assembly. It is true that I sought transparency on
private donations to public colleges. In the face of the relentless
demands of more public funding, I believed the taxpayers should know all
sources of revenue available to public educational institutions.

Finally, let’s address the main point of the Virginian-Pilot article, the
belief that state finance of higher education should be 70 percent state
funding and 30 percent tuition. We nearly achieved that proportion during
my administration. But since tuition has been allowed to skyrocket,
amounting today to an average of about $10,000 per student, state
support would now have to rise from about $5,758 per student (in 2012) to
about $23,331 per student, more than quintupling, to meet that 70/30
proportion. A 70/30 proportion might be reached if tuition was cut, as was
done in my administration. I urge such a cut now to make college more
affordable.

Higher education is of critical importance to public policy in Virginia.
For the advancement of people, including their economic opportunities, the
administration of our public colleges is critical.
The Pilot suggests that the colleges should be free from supervision from
elected officials. That would separate public colleges from the public
that finances them. Efforts by elected officials, including the governor,
are often greeted with a suggestion that oversight is anti-higher
education. I do not agree. Elected officials have a duty to oversee public
higher education on behalf of the taxpayers who elect them.

As governor, I never sought to control or dictate education policy. I did
insist that the appointees to the board of visitors remember their public
responsibility to the public. That responsibility must remain on the
forefront of the minds of the members of the boards of visitors of the
public college system, and of the elected officials who represent our
students, families and taxpayers.

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Jim Gilmore was governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, and served as
chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2001 to 2002. He was
most recently a candidate for the GOP nomination for president. Email:
[email protected]