Higher Ed to General Assembly: More, More, More

Rendering of new Va. Tech. Data and Digital Sciences Building, (authorized 2020) Photo credit: Va Tech

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The 2022-2024 biennial state budget that became effective on July 1 included more than $1 billion in general fund appropriation for capital projects for institutions of higher education. This was in addition to at least $1 billion in general fund-supported appropriations in the previous biennial budget.

One would think that more than $2 billion in the last two biennial budgets would be enough to satisfy the capital needs of higher ed, at least for a while. But, as my colleagues in the Department of Planning and Budget were prone to say, “There is no satisfying higher ed.”

The ink was hardly dry on the governor’s signature on the new budget bill when higher ed institutions submitted capital budget requests totaling $3.2 billion for the amended budget to be submitted to the 2023 General Assembly, of which $2.6 billion would come from the general fund or be supported by general fund-backed bonds.

Here are the totals of projects submitted by each school:

  • Christopher Newport University–$77 million
  • College of William and Mary–$14.2 million
  • Richard Bland College–$7.2 million
  • Virginia Institute of Marine Science–$96 million
  • George Mason University–$288.9 million
  • Longwood University–$6.7 million
  • Norfolk State University–$256.3 million
  • Old Dominion University–$136.1 million
  • University of Mary Washington–$46.5 million
  • University of Virginia–$431.3 million
  • UVa’s College at Wise–$120.7 million
  • Virginia Commonwealth University–$152 million
  • Virginia Community Colleges (all campuses) –$339.2 million
  • Virginia Military Institute–$22.8 million
  • Virginia Tech–$379.6 million
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension–$21.7 million
  • Virginia State University–$255.9 million

Only a small fraction of this total will be approved and funded, of course, but the list does demonstrate the appetite of higher ed institutions for construction funding. The list includes new buildings, renovation of existing buildings, and major infrastructure projects. (For anyone wishing to see the details of the specific requests, they can be found here. Clicking on the project title will take you to all the details.)

One aspect that is readily apparent is the escalating cost of higher ed buildings.  Probably the most expensive state capital project authorized is the replacement of Central State Hospital in Petersburg at an estimated $318.5 million. (There are some bigger ones in the pipeline, which will be the subject of another post.)  However, higher ed is closing in on that record. UVa is requesting authorization to construct a center for the arts at an estimated cost of $315 million. However, the school is asking for “only” $165 million from state funds; the remainder would come from its foundation and gifts. In addition, UVa is requesting $250 million in General Fund authorization for an engineering building.

It was not so long ago that $100 million for a higher ed building was a rarity. The world is much different now. The current list of requests includes several facilities with an estimated cost exceeding that amount (requests are for all general fund (GF) appropriation, unless indicated otherwise):

  • UVa–Center for the Arts ($315 million; $165 GF)
  • UVa—Engineering Building ($250 million)
  • Va Tech—Expand medical school ($216.2 million)
  • Va Tech—Renovate & expand chemistry/physics building ($171.7 million; $123 GF)
  • George Mason—Construct School of Business ($165 million; $82.5 GF)
  • VCU—Interdisciplinary Classroom and Lab Bldg ($152 million)
  • George Mason—Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building I ($150 million)
  • Norfolk State—Living and Learning and Dining Facility ($125 million)
  • Old Dominion—Data Science Building ($110.7 million)
  • Norfolk State—Wellness, Health, and Phys. Ed Center ($110 million; $87.7 million GF)

My Soapbox

In addition to some general comments, I would like to nominate several projects and institutions for special recognition:

Greediest Institution Prize: 

First place–Virginia Tech—In the budget bill just signed, Tech received authorization and funding to replace Randolph Hall, the university’s largest engineering building, at an estimated cost of $223 million. Without missing a beat, for the amended budget, it is requesting $216.7 million to expand the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine, $122.9 million to renovate and expand the chemistry/physics building, and $88 million for various other projects.

Runner-up– VCU—The university was authorized $163 million in General Fund appropriation in the current budget bill to construct an “Arts and Innovation Building.” Before even starting on that project, it has requested $152 million for an interdisciplinary classroom and lab building.

The “Let’s Throw a Bunch of Stuff Up There and See What Sticks” Award

Virginia State University and Norfolk State University. Both schools are small and have limited capital outlay staff to manage projects. Both have major projects underway, with Virginia State authorized a $100 million project in 2020 and having spent less than $10 million on it. Virginia State also was authorized three relatively small projects, totaling $59.5 million, by the 2022 General Assembly. However, both schools are a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and, in the past, there has been political pressure to give each school “something.”

Virginia State has submitted requests for authorization and funding for four projects with a total estimated cost of $255.9 million. Not to be outdone, Norfolk State has submitted requests for six projects with a total estimated general fund cost of $256.3 million.

Most Demonstrative of Why Fees for College Students Have Increased So Much:

Norfolk State University—The university has requested authorization and General Fund money for a “Living Learning Center and Dining Facility.” Here is the university’s description of the project:

The facility will include amenities such as classrooms, labs, flexible study spaces, lounges, laundry spaces, kitchens, and recreation areas with comfortable furniture. Student housing space has transitioned from the common hallway bathrooms to more private bathroom space only accessible in single rooms or in quarters housing 2-4 students in small clusters of suites. Additionally, the facility will include faculty-in-residence apartments, innovation incubators, maker spaces, study rooms, recreational space and student well-being spaces that will include, exercise rooms, gym space, yoga rooms and calming rooms. Furthermore, the facility will incorporate more sustainable design elements to enhance the student experience.

The dining facility will serve 600-700 students to support the growth in on campus housing population and will include multi-purpose space, small formal dining hall, banquet rooms, lounge seating areas, open market-style dining stations, distinctive and varied dining environments, indoor and outdoor seating, offices and temporary table and chair storage.

Ordinarily, this type of project would be funded wholly, or primarily, with revenue bonds with the debt service paid out of student fees. Perhaps the university was leery of raising student fees more and, therefore, is proposing that it receive general fund-backed funding.

The capital outlay section of the budget is the one that receives the least scrutiny. The capital outlay subcommittees of the two money committees meet a few times, but specific requested projects are seldom discussed in those meetings. Moreover, the meetings are not well attended and reporters seldom attend. Nevertheless, a huge amount of general fund money is either appropriated or obligated as future debt service in this process. If a single operating program received a new $223 million appropriation, that would be big news. However, the obligation of that much money for a single building at Virginia Tech elicited no notice. (It does not help that the specific amount for that project and several others were lumped together in a capital “pool.”)

Although the subcommittee meetings do not attract many observers, there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes. “Regular” state agencies are not allowed to lobby for their projects, but there are no constraints on higher ed institutions. Most institutions have lobbyists at the legislative session, as has been discussed on this blog. Furthermore, the best “lobbyists” are the alumni in the General Assembly, pushing for projects for their alma maters. It is not unusual for a higher ed capital project that was not included in the Governor’s introduced budget to be included in the final, approved budget bill. In fact, that was the case with the large, $223 million project for Virginia Tech, replacement of Randolph Hall, in the 2022 Session. It was not in the introduced budget, but lobbyists and other advocates for the university succeeded in getting it included in the final budget bill, bumping numerous projects from other institutions in the process.

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57 responses to “Higher Ed to General Assembly: More, More, More”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Wonder what CNU has planned for its $77M? They’d need property line variances to build anything else. I suppose they could buy the James River Country Club, or build another President’s residence and gift (for you Dick) the current one to Trible.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I have edited the post to include a link to the submissions database, which includes the details for each submission. I forgot to include that link in the original post.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive


        A $7M AC unit. Sounds like mine.

  2. VaPragamtist Avatar


    From what I understand, the way of doing business at Virginia state universities changed significantly in the early 2000’s. Universities were granted more management authority and less oversight (which is why now most employees are university employees rather than state employees). I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. . .

    In your experience, did that massive policy change have any impact on the cries of “the GA isn’t giving us enough money” or the skyrocketing cost of tuition and fees?

    Just curious.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Four schools–UVa, Tech, W&M, and VCU–have been granted some additional autonomy whereby they are not bound by state rules and procedures. UVa. has used this authority more than the others. I stayed away from the details when I was around this.

      I don’t think those policy changes were linked to the laments of decreasing state support (which was real). The Boards of Visitors have always had the authority to set tuition and fees (except when the GA establishes limits or a moratorium).

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” (which is why now most employees are university employees rather than state employees)”

      sort of a side issue but don’t university employees get state pensions (or not)?

      and what about health insurance, is that a per institution thing or is it State?

      Folks get all bent out of shape on capital projects but they are gnats on a dogs butt compared to recurring costs LIKE pensions and health insurance where there actually could be some savings if they consolidated some of it IMO.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Higher ed employees are considered state employees. They are in VRS and the state health insurance plan. One exception would be employees of MCV Health System. That entity is set up as an authority and employees are considered employees of the authority. I do not know about the arrangements with VRS and the state health plan.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    These days , things like elementary schools can cost $50+. So many of the proposals are on a dollar basis probably not for uber-buildings. It seems to be more of an issue of how many different institutions have their hand out – it adds up!

    But I also think it’s institutions group-thinking that NOW is the time to get their share that the GA seems willing to pony up the money! Get it while you can!

    It would be like Congress or the GA showing some willingness to provide more funds for roads….. like the GA just did.

    Wait for it!

    I just wanna know WHERE are the Conservatives when this kind of stuff happens? They used to be who we depended on when things got out of hand on budgets!


  4. Dick, thanks for this much-needed update. I find it profoundly discouraging. But it does explain one thing — why Governor Youngkin demanded that Virginia’s public universities hold the line on tuition & fees… and why almost all of them fell in line. I believe that UVa was the only exception.

    1. I believe that UVa was the only exception.

      Well, they are exceptional, after all…

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Special is the preferred word for their alumni.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Special is the preferred word for their alumni.

      3. DJRippert Avatar

        Legends in their own minds.

    2. Rob Austin Avatar
      Rob Austin

      Gotta pay for all those Thought Police.

      1. Well played, sir.

    3. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr


      VMI rolled back the 3% tuition increase for in-state cadets but not for the out-of-state ones. How does that add up to “equity?”

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    I think the people who run America’s colleges and universities may have finally priced themselves out of the market. Enrollments continue to decline. While COVID was the explanation a yer ago, it now appears more structural. Young people are wondering if the immense debt required to attend college is worth it.

    I think the General Assembly ought to think long and hard before spending billions to expand Virginia’s public college and university infrastructure.

    The long awaited day of reckoning may finally be here.


    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Perhaps we will begin to fill the gap in the trades once again.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Naw. It’s like anything else that has competition. The guys that offer the best perceived product, even if pricey will push the marginal , smaller, more expensive competitors out.

      This is like arguing that folks are sick and tired of pickup trucks costing $50K and up… and they’re gonna boycott.


      Oh, and I’m betting the “woke” ones who reject white supremacy will easily win out.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Facts are stubborn things. Enrollments are down. Companies across the board are hiring people without college degrees. The drunken soiree of ever increasing enrollment despite ever increasing costs is over.

        I know you liberals hate the idea that one of your cherished (yet utterly mismanaged) institutions is failing but colleges and universities as a whole are failing.

        If pick-up trucks rose in cost as fast and for as long as college tuition … nobody would buy one.

        The liberal solution is, as always, to socialize the problem rather than solve it. Just forgive the college debt rather than demand that colleges and universities constrain their runaway costs.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          nothing cherished for me.. I went to college the harder way.

          I’ve never been a lover of College “life” that so many Conservatives so very much used to so highly value for their kiddos as they transitioned to the real world with a cushy job!

          You Conservatives types, faux too, helped build these institutions and still most GOP in the GA like them but what’s changed is the culture war on higher ed (and most every other institutions these days). Cretins running amok!

          And you side-step the pickup issue.. add big SUVs… people want bells & whistles and willing to pay a premium for them, pickup trucks AND higher ed. Cool dorms. Cool dining halls. Cool big time sports programs. Hypocrites I tell you, one and all!

          College debt forgival? Not me! I think folks need to work their way through college! And I DECRY the whole subsidy game , it’s bad on so many levels.

          IF you self-proclaimed Conservatives were really so, you’d stick to/get back to REAL fiscal conservatism instead of getting wigged out over culture war koolaid!

          You’ve got me mixed up with some strawman you are fondling.

          1. Stephen Haner Avatar
            Stephen Haner

            I know how that feels.

  6. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

    My late parents (still my heroes, after all these years) had five grandchildren. The first four graduated, in order, from William & Mary, SMU, Harvard, and Duke. The 5th grandchild — the “dumb” one — flunked out of college two times. He’s now a welder, making north of $100k a year. He’s also buying a house painting business. The lad is 28.

    There are a “million stories in the big city, and this is just one of them,” but I am at the point where I no longer think that college is an “automatic.”

    NN: What is the source of the quoted language? Caution: it is not verbatim.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Never thought college was the only path to higher education but it has been a popular and conventional no-brainer for those that worried than the other paths were not sure things and problematical.

      Still that way in some respects. The guy/gal without college needs to be really on-the-ball if they are ever going to be more than a really good practitioner of a skill or similar.

      But even something like welding takes knowledge. You don’t just start doing it! And if you want to make it a business – that’s an additional skill!

      Running a small business IMO is worth the investment in higher ed knowledge so that you don’t have to work for the govt or “the man” but yourself. To me, those who start/operate businesses are top tier folk.

      1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

        Many well-taken points. His mother (my sister, a widow) is doing his bookkeeping. To learn welding, he lived with one of my sons-in-law, a jack-of-all trades and a master of many, for three months. While there, he also got a heavy dose of painting and plumbing, and some electric wiring. The youngster, it turns out, is very visual. He can’t study from a book, but show him how to do something, and there is no stopping him. So, yes, he had some help. No doubt about it. It all came together for him, for now.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          There are folks like that and they often end up being able to do things that others cannot , even those “highly-educated” college types!

          There are many ways to make it and always ways to fail.

          I was reading about Discount Tire (don’t ask why) but you might like it, I did. :

          ” Company history
          Discount Tire was founded in 1960, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by Bruce T. Halle. After a couple of false starts in other businesses, Halle decided to go into business on his own. He rented an old plumbing supply building on Stadium Boulevard in Ann Arbor. Halle tidied up the place and hung a sign outside that displayed his stock of six tires (two new and four retreads), and waited for new business. It took three days before Halle received his first customer, and four more before he sold his first tire. Halle admitted to having no real business plan in mind when he first opened his establishment.

          The company grew to over 200 stores by 1990 and opened its 500th store in 2002. On September 10, 2018, Discount Tire opened its 1000th store in Phoenix, AZ.[6] Discount Tire entered the northeast market with a location in Pittsburgh, PA in February 2020.”

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Nude Village? Takes one ya know. But that’s Kerry’s domain.

      In the 1970s the Stay in School campaign feature a bus ad that read “I is a high school dropout.” Under it in Sharpie someone wrote “I is also a millionaire.”

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Dick, an editorial change suggestion. A bit antiquated, but you could become early 21st century hip with “Mo’ money, Mo’ money, Mo’ money” instead. A little less Boomer.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Oooh! Oooh! Yes, better. Just include “With a rebel yell”. It’s a twofer. Get to be hip, AND use the vaunted BR word, “Rebel”.

        I bow to a superior suggestion!

        1. Even a half-blind pig finds an acorn now and then.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I just had more fun in the past hour than I’ve had since a trip to Mexico in 2010. Negotiating with SXM! It’s like a Turkish bazaar. Wow! I would tell you what I got, but others out there claim better.

            Man, I’m juiced. Thinking about calling Cox next! Maybe Dominion!

          2. I’m getting ready to reenter negotiations with DirectTV. Should be fun.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Good luck! Stick to your guns. Remember what Freewheeling Frank says, “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money can get you through times of no dope.” Change as necessary.

          4. I’m getting ready to reenter negotiations with DirectTV. Should be fun.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Mo money? There there now. No cultural appropriation is permitted at this time.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I have already conceded defeat. The GOP should try it. It’s cathartic.

    2. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

      I am still using “V-P-I.” Anyone else?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        VPI&SU – Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

        1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

          “State University”or “SU” was added effective July 1, 1970. By habit, I am still calling Tech “V-P-I” and occasionally “Blacksburg High.”

          1. Carter Melton Avatar
            Carter Melton

            “Far beyond the hills of Blacksburg
            In a field of rye……”

            Take me back to them days, Sweet Jezzus

      2. & SU?

        They switched to Virginia Tech because a standard college football field is not long enough for the marching band to spell out “Go Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University” during halftime…

        1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

          BWAHAHA. I hadn’t thought of that. Now I understand why “Alabama Polytechnic Institute” switched to “Auburn.” The switch didn’t work. They still can’t beat Alabama.

  8. Virginia Tech should not even have been allowed to build a medical school. I’m not sure the GA had any legal way to stop them, but I think Tech’s medical school is a redundant waste of taxpayer dollars. We already had UVA, MCV and EVMS when Tech started up Carilion. How many publicly-owned medical schools does a state our size need?

    In my opinion, Virginia Tech should be concentrating on maintaining & improving their already first-rate colleges of engineering and architecture, and developing their school of veterinary medicine into the best in the nation.

    I think costs of public colleges could be reduced if state-run schools played to their strengths and did not delve into areas where other state school(s) already specialize. In much the same way that UVA and VCU do not need veterinary schools, Va. Tech did not need a medical school.

    1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

      Totally agree. All three paragraphs are spot-on.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Once again, our state’s “hands off” policy toward higher education provides dysfunction. Big donors are appointed to boards of visitors and then our state government forgets about the public higher ed system. Except, of course, for a never ending call for higher taxes. That’s one thing the Democrats in the General Assembly never tire of demanding.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        pretty sure the GOP is on board also.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Maybe so. The incompetence of The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond does seem bipartisan.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            maybe wide than Virginia when it comes to higher ed… except for perhaps Purdue?

  9. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    None of these requests are tied to any performance measures of course — growing enrollment, or improved academic outcomes, or something to justify pouring in resources. Enrollment remains pretty stable at most of them, right? And even shrinking at some? In the Real World cap ex has be justified by returns. Perhaps that is the biggest difference in the Higher Ed Ivory Tower — no need to show return on investment. Even the VDOT funding is now tied more to performance metrics, as was discussed elsewhere.

    At least when the sports programs get greedy they face real metrics: Attendance, revenue, recruitment, success on the playing field….

    It was rants like that which ensured I had only one term on SCHEV, that when TMac looked for somebody to throw off to make room for a supporter, I was nominated. 🙂

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      It’s a business. Well, it is now.

    2. At least he nominated you for something…

    3. LarrytheG Avatar

      wait. this is LITERALLY about Ivory Towers!

  10. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
    Carmen Villani Jr

    In terms of dollars per student (Enrollment SCHEV data used):

    Virginia State – $65,716
    Norfolk State – $51,096
    UVA – $24,994
    Christopher Newport – $17,218
    VMI – $13,801
    VPI – $12,755
    Mary Washington – $12,705
    GMU – $10,569
    ODU – $7,287
    W&M – $2,170

  11. John Harvie Avatar
    John Harvie

    Virginia State University–$255.9 million

    These folks have possibly been underfunded for years (my suspicion) and ignored by the commonwealth (my opinion).

    I’m not taking a position on the merits because I’m not qualified to do so. Perhaps they deserved it.

  12. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    I had occasion this weekend to be in Charlottesville. I walked with my wife up Jefferson Park Avenue towards W. Main/University Ave. past the UVA Hospital complex on the right and Cabell Hall (Old and New) on the left. See https://www.baconsrebellion.com/app/uploads/2022/08/UVA-Grounds.png

    It was like walking in Manhattan.

    The map does not begin to show the scale of the West Complex that was on our left. It soars into the sky, except the destruction/reconstruction of the McEntire Commerce school, which will be even bigger.

    Nothing, though, prepared us for the University Hospital, Med School and Medical Research facilities on the right. Utterly massive. And if the footprint of the enormous new building going up beyond the current complex is any indication, it is about to be or exceed the size of some of the great New York City hospital complexes.


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