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.

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19 responses to “Who Would Have Guessed It? Virginians Want Lower College Tuitions.”

  1. Part of the problem is that money donated privately can come with strings as to where it goes. How are you going to conquer that? I’m sure no one is going to say no to free money, even if it goes only to football scholarships.

  2. LocalGovGuy Avatar

    Kind of a pointless questions. As VN notes, nobody would donate money if it went to lowering tuition. Alums donate to get their schools more prestige and higher in the U.S. News rankings or to help a sports team. They do not donate to knock off $5 for every student’s tuition.

    Ask any development specialist in higher ed, the only things that matters when alums consider a major donation ($100K or more) to a university is whether it will either help in the U.S. News rankings or help a specific sports team. They could not care less about affordability with their gifts.

    To tell you the truth, this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard….Endowments help lower tuition….if there was a law that required private donations to go towards lowering tuition, nobody would donate. Without an endowment, universities would then have to raise tuition on students.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think there have never been more options and more affordable Higher Ed available to anyone who wants to avail themselves of those options.

    What we’re getting is the drumbeat for a particular option – residential on campus and a “big” name-brand University and that’s fine but it’s not a responsibility of taxpayers.

    It’s fast becoming a vestige of a bygone era for those who want “more” if it costs more and especially so if it will be subsidized by taxpayers.

    This is silly. It’s like folks whining that they want a Lexus instead of a Rav4 or Yaris and they want the State to pressure the car companies to keep the price low and/or get subsidies.

    Good Lord. Virtually anyone can attend a Community college for two years then do two years living off-campus with a part-time job to get the next two years..

    If you want more than this – then step up and take responsibility for the choices you want.

    1. LocalGovGuy Avatar


      If parents want affordable higher ed, it’s out there. If you live in Norfolk, you can do 2 years of community college and 2 years of ODU and get an engineering degree for about $30K if you don’t live on-campus. Same is true of VCU and GMU. IMO, that’s not a bad deal. So, if you live in the NoVa, RVA, or Hampton Roads metro areas (literally 3/4 of the state’s population live in those 3), you can get a bachelor’s degree for $30K or less if you don’t live on-campus.

      This whole “Partners for Affordable Excellence” is a farce. As stated, 3/4 of the state can get a bachelor’s degree for $30K in tuition/fees. Higher ed is affordable in this state.

      The “Partners for Affordable Excellence” organization simply doesn’t like U.Va. and William & Mary. That’s all this group and these blog posts are about. They’re not fooling anyone. These people have ideological and personal axes to grind with U.Va. and William & Mary

      Notice we never see derogatory posts about ODU, GMU, and VCU. Why? Because once you start to connect the dots, the whole “affordability” argument disappears.

      There are plenty of kids in NoVa who go to NoVa CC for 2 years and GMU for 2 years. Same with Reynolds CC and VCU and Tidewater CC and ODU. That “bare bones” option that this blog sometimes discusses is right here in Virginia and is accessible to 3/4 of the state’s kids.

      And even if you want to talk about U.Va. and W&M, guess what? They have agreements with all of the state’s community colleges for guaranteed transfer of credits. So, again, 2 of those 4 years can be completed at community college for ridiculously cheap tuition. You only have to pay 2 years of costs. And further, guess what? If you live in Richmond or Hampton Roads, it’s not impossible to commute to William and Mary for those final 2 years depending on scheduling. So half the state’s population (RVA and Hampton Roads MSAs) might not even have to pay room and board. And further further, guess what? If you live in Richmond, Charlottesville’s only an hour away. So it is possible, and there are kids who do this, to commute to U.Va. for those final 2 years. And let’s also not forget that Christopher Newport and Mary Washington are also available for commuting options in Hampton Roads and NoVa!

      None of this is about “affordability” in higher ed, there are plenty of affordable options. I think a bachelor’s degree for about $30K is reasonable and affordable in 2017 dollars. Especially when you consider that you can get a business or engineering degree (which should lead to good career earnings) at GMU, VCU, and ODU.

  4. Just an obvious observation: It’s amazing how this issue suddenly rises in importance, economically and politically, when a family has to deal with putting a kid through college.

  5. LocalGovGuy Avatar

    Well, Well, Well, LarrytheG,

    Look right here, another affordable pathway for a four year degree in Virginia:


    Again, this discussion has nothing to do with “affordability” and everything to do with ideological and personal dislike of U.Va. and William & Mary. “Affordable” higher ed options are abundant in Virginia. No, you won’t necessarily get 4 leafy years of residency in Charlottesville or Williamsburg or Blacksburg, but you can still get a 4 year degree in this state for $30K. The options are out there if parents and students want to pursue them.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      guaranteed admission to UVA! let the whining begin!

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Institutions that receive conditioned gifts should not be allowed to deviate from the attached conditions, except in cases where enforcement of such a condition violates a clear principle of law. Like it or not, a gift to promote research in climate change or educate students from West Virginia needs to be honored. If a college or university does not wish to honor the conditions, it should give the money back unless the donor has made it clear his/her/its charitable intent outweighs the conditions set forth. The doctrine of Cy Pres is used too often from my perspective. Cy Pres holds “that if a charitable trust document does not dictate what to do under changed circumstances, a court is permitted to modify the charitable purpose restriction.”

  7. djrippert Avatar

    Several commenters are missing the point. They write about how Virginians can live at home, go to community college and then transfer to a local university getting a good education. That’s all true but that’s not what is bothering people.

    What bothers people is that state owned universities like UVA can’t control their costs. Their tuitions have been rising faster than inflation + median wage growth. In other words, they are becoming steadily less affordable. These universities are property of the Commonwealth of Virginia and, by extension, of the citizens of Virginia. Why aren’t our elected officials held to task over the mis-management of our public universities? Where is the explanation from Teresa Sullivan et al of the causes of the excessive tuition increases?

    Health care has a cost problem too. However, that problem is understood and there are proposals to address the drivers of those rising costs. Naturally, the snowflakes of America’s left are only too happy to point fingers at pharma companies, insurance companies, heartless free market Republicans, etc. Where is the frustration with the people running our public universities at a time when too few Americans have adequate skills for the future?

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    The Universities are not only not the only place to get work skills, they are not the most affordable either..

    And Virginia no more owns hospitals that taxpayers pay subsidies to for charity care than the Universities. Taxpayer funding of any agency does not mean that taxpayers “own” those institutions and therefore “decide” what they should be charging much less directly personally accusing the leaders of those institutions.

    In terms of “controlling costs” – again – we subsidize hospitals so why are we not accusing them of not “controlling” their costs?

    People who want higher education have options – but they do not have the right to decide what each option should charge; they DO have the right to choose – to let their proverbial wallets do their “taking” not the Govt dictating prices…

    I think it is dang freaking amazing that the same folks who blather on infinitum about the “free market” for health care have a totally different standard when it comes to higher ed. “snowflakes” – yes … that’s exactly what you call folks who want the govt to “protect” them from “unaffordable” prices. Indeed!

    It’s an even sillier argument when you KNOW there are LOTS of other “affordable” options to choose from!

    1. djrippert Avatar

      “I think it is dang freaking amazing that the same folks who blather on infinitum about the “free market” for health care have a totally different standard when it comes to higher ed. “snowflakes” – yes … that’s exactly what you call folks who want the govt to “protect” them from “unaffordable” prices. Indeed!”

      Whether you like reality or not it’s still reality. The state owns the public universities. In Virginia, those universities are badly mismanaged. Our elected officials and the managers of the public universities should be held to account for their mismanagement of those assets. The fact that there are alternatives to those universities does absolutely nothing to to diminish the mismanagement of Virginia’s public universities.

      The health care system in the United States is not owned by the government. Some would say that it should be owned by the government. Maybe so. However, given that our government won’t even attempt to rein in the skyrocketing costs of the public universities it should give one pause as to what they would accomplish of they did own the health care system.

      1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

        I had a niece graduate from VT 4 years ago with a degree in engineering. A neighbor’s child graduated from U.Va. 2 years ago with a degree in business (Commerce). Both are making $70,000+ in their mid-20s. A university education doesn’t “guarantee” anyone to make any salary. But, I honestly believe that U.VA., W&M, and VT consistently produce kids who are primed to make good money and live good lives. So, to be honest, I just don’t have much to criticize about those schools even if they are “inefficient”. In fact, the average debt load across all 3 is pretty constant…$30K-$35K. When you consider that grads from all 3 schools have median mid-career earnings between $90-100K, I’m just not seeing a problem.

        And the “costs are out of control” argument simply holds no water. U.Va. saw a 10% increase in applications this year after raising tuition on a yearly basis. If the institution was so “out of control” then why are more and more kids trying to get in to such an allegedly “inefficient” institution? Something doesn’t add up…..except for a one year dip after the Rolling Stone article, U.Va. has seen growth in applications for 9 out of the past 10 years even though I think they’ve raised tuition every year. Again, the numbers make no sense if there’s something “out of control” at the school.

        1. Regarding the increase in applications at UVa… It’s a positive sign, but we need to know more information before we can make a judgment. (1) If all universities are seeing an increase in applications because college-bounds kids are simply applying to more colleges, then the increase at UVa may not be a significant indicator of how the institution is perceived. (2) If UVa is getting more applications because it’s marketing more aggressively, the increase may not be a significant indicator of how the institution is perceived. Without that information, we just don’t know.

          As a UVa alumnus, I would like to think that the institution’s status is rising in the world. But I’m going to look closely at the data before drawing a definitive conclusion.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I don’t have any particular allegiance to UVA, VaTech, W&M, VCU, UMW, etc… I have allegiance to kids/adults who want to gain education and job skills.

            I think when we fund the institutions – rather than the students – we create the very circumstances we decrie.

            And the thing is most fiscal Conservatives know this basic rubric and that is when you give money to institutions – they’re not going to spend it the way you would. In addition – when a whole bunch of folks give money to institutions – there is a whole bunch of different opinions as to what they should or should not do with it.

            If you want the money to go to lower tuition – you give it to the students – not the institutions and you put strings on it so it can only be spent for tuition, books, etc.. not food or lodging or courses that do not have demand in the job market.

            If every kid in Va has the ability to go to a Community College and graduate with a C, or B or better – and be guaranteed a spot in a 4 year to finish their last two years- we’d be on our way to a better system.

            Trying to hang on to an obsolescence college concept – and make taxpayers pay for it – makes no sense. It’s the worst of all worlds for both students and taxpayers. Our job is to not keep UVA what it used to be. Our job is to allow as many kids as we can – get a useful higher ed and end up as a taxpayer who pays their own way, cares for their family needs and does not need entitlements.

            that ought to be our goal.

            When I hear folks saying we might have to close rural hospitals – at the same time we say we CAN afford to subsidize 20-30K a year for residential campus college – I do wonder what our priorities are.

          2. LocalGovGuy Avatar

            Interesting numbers from the SCHEV website regarding applications:

            W&M went from 10,600 apps in 2005-06 to 14,950 in 2015-16
            U.Va.?: 15,600 to 30,900
            VT?: 17,700 to 22,300

            Here’s a sourcce for all numbers for all Virginia schools:

            U.Va. is consistent with the Ivies which have also seen a doubling or tripling of applications in the same time period.

            William & Mary and VT are consistent with major state universities across the country.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Whether you like reality or not it’s still reality. The state owns the public universities. In Virginia, those universities are badly mismanaged.”

    Well.. the state does not “own” the Universities nor does it manage them and I don’t see Va Universities much different than other states.

    The state no more “owns” the Universities than it “owns” the K-12 schools it funds nor is the state responsible for managing the K-12 schools either.

    The state CAN control what State money can be spent on – and not – and does but it cannot tell a University what courses it offers or not nor what professors get hired or not nor how many, etc, etc. It’s _not_ “reality” to think it does – or can – or should…

    Don’s view is totally odd given his disdain and contempt of the General Assembly. Who would he have “run” the Universities – instead?

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    Vouchers seems to be way popular for some folks for k-12. Why not higher-ed?

    give the voucher to the student and let them then “shop” for the best deal.

    Make the vouchers means-tested, give more for good HS grades and degrees in demand in the job sectors and don’t allow vouchers to be used for residential or student fees.

    end of problem.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    RE: ” W&M went from 10,600 apps in 2005-06 to 14,950 in 2015-16
    U.Va.?: 15,600 to 30,900
    VT?: 17,700 to 22,300″

    So no market forces even if tuition doubles, the demand also doubles?

    well THERE’s your problem! Why should they reduce their prices if demand is as strong as ever? They’ll see that money as “profits” than can be plowed back into the institution to make it bigger and stronger and their “product” offerings even MORE appealing to customers!

    1. LocalGovGuy Avatar

      Exactly, these arguments by the “Partners for Affordable Excellence” all crumble when numbers are brought into the equation. There’s no way the best marketing team in the world could literally get applications to double if there was a true problem with 10 straight years of tuition increases…..

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