by James A. Bacon
A University of Virginia panel has released a new vision for the state’s preeminent public university to operate more like a private institution: raising tuition, enrolling more out-of-state students and revamping the Board of Visitors selection criteria to include more “professional” board members. The discussions reflected in the document are part of a “brainstorming exercise” as President Teresa Sullivan develops a strategic plan for the university, reports the Washington Post.
The details of the new thinking can be found in an April 2013 draft document, “A Defining and Differentiated Vision for UVA as a Unique and Preeminent Public Institution.” The document makes the case that a “new contract” is needed between the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia based on the following values: world-class quality, a premier resident experience, a comprehensive range of disciplines, knowledge leadership in public service, and strong self-governance. “UVA,” states the vision, “has the opportunity to lead with a new model for excellence in public higher education.”
The traditional compact between government and public universities appears to be breaking down nationally, the visioning document says. Universities are experiencing significant and sustained cuts in state and federal funding. The division of wealth in society is growing, and the cost of higher education is generating increasing criticism. The IT revolution is impacting knowledge acquisition and online learning, and universities are facing pressure to act as business-oriented, market-driven institutions. The result is “bureaucratic paralysis, short-term solutions, and reductionist thinking and measures.”
The document stresses that UVa is an economic engine, bringing $456 million into the state through out-of-state grants, giving and graduate fellowships. The university is a magnet for the best and brightest students from other states, and its presence is attractive to companies, like Rolls-Royce, thinking of investing here. Continued investment in UVa is in the best interest of Virginia and its citizens, even those who have no affiliation with the university.
The working group enunciated the following principles:
- A new contract with the commonwealth. Evolve from a “state-controlled and state-supported” entity to a “state-affiliated” entity, giving the university greater flexibility and management discretion. Among the necessary changes: the same base tuition for in-state and out-of-state students, with possible “discounts” for Virginia residents.
- Governance reform. Alter the Board of Visitors from its roster of political appointees to members who “meet a defined set of selection criteria focused on their knowledge of an experience with major issues involving higher education (i.e. industry competence), as well as their knowledge of and experience leading and governing large, complex organizations.” While the governor would continue making the appointments, he (or she) might draw from candidates nominated by an “expert selection panel.”
- Increased out-of-state enrollment. Currently, UVa must enroll 70% Virginia residents. Under the new vision, “the enrollment mix would shift to ensure the University’s status as a preeminent national and global university. “This shift probably involves a larger portion of non-resident students.”
- Ensured access for students with financial need. Donations from the state to provide financial aid for qualified Virginia residents would be gratefully accepted.
- Strategic investment in new marked-based initiatives. “UVa should develop a culture and invest in the infrastructure required to encourage and support revenue-generating program innovation.”
The university also would continue to emphasize its public-service mission and affirm its commitment to a premier residential undergraduate experience.
In conclusion, the document says, “Rather than shedding its commitment as a public university, the proposed new principles allow the University to be both public and professional, managing effectively and efficiently within the new realities of its economic and political environment.”