by James A. Bacon
College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.
“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights. “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”
Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”
The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As K-12 schools, community colleges and universities shift ever more learning online, the so-called “digital divide” — disparate access to high-speed Internet access and computers — is looming as a bigger problem than ever before.
A new analysis by the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) finds that more than 200,000 K-12 students (14%) and more than 60,000 college students (10%) lack broadband subscriptions in the home. The survey also found that 173,000 K-12 students (12%) and nearly 23,000 college students (4%) lack a laptop or desktop computer.
The lack of access to broadband is most acute in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure is spottiest, but is widespread in Virginia’s urban areas as well. Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.
“The research looked at whether students actually had broadband service in the home,” said Tom Allison, SCHEV’s senior associate for finance and innovation policy and author of the report, “rather than if it was available in their area. That is important because a household might have a dozen companies to choose from, but won’t benefit if they can’t afford it.” Continue reading
Camp Mount Shenandoah: less screen time, more time outdoors
by James A. Bacon
A philosophical question to ponder: If the Commonwealth of Virginia shuts down an entire industry by executive order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, what moral obligation does it have to help the businesses survive the epidemic?
Literally no industry in Virginia has been more impacted by the emergency shutdown than overnight summer camps. Summer camps do not comprise a particularly big industry — one guesstimate is that 75 establishments generate in the realm of $100 million a year — so they cannot be said be be economically “essential.” But they are essential, camp advocates say, for the mental health of thousands of Virginia kids, who need physical activity and social interaction.
Many industries have been slammed by the emergency shutdown. However, none but the summer camps have been entirely shuttered for all three phases. Camps generate 90% or more of total revenue from seven to 12 weeks during the summer, and if they are forced to close during that period, there is no way to make up for lost revenue. Continue reading
W&M President Katherine Rowe
by James A. Bacon
We won’t know for another week or two, when kids show up on campus, what enrollments will be at Virginia’s colleges and universities. Due to massive uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 epidemic, no one is sure how many students who committed to attend will appear when dormitories open in the next week or two. Higher-ed institutions across the state are bracing for the worst. Indeed, uncertainty is so acute that some college presidents and senior officers are proactively taking pay cuts.
College of William & Mary President Katherine Rowe and two senior colleagues, the university’s provost and chief operating officer, are the latest. Rowe, who earned $672,000 last year, is asking the Board of Visitors to reduce her compensation by 15% through the end of the year. The other two executives have voluntarily taken cuts of 12%.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and other school leaders have announced 10% salary cuts. Ryan racked up $1,189,000 in compensation last year. Virginia Commonwealth University has said that “employee furloughs may be necessary.” Among those furloughed would be President Michael Rao. Continue reading
It’s one thing for some geeks in a garage to spin up a new Bitcoin currency. It’s another when a sophisticated data-analytics company with nearly a half billion dollars in revenues dives in the cyber-currency. MicroStrategy Inc., one of Northern Virginia’s more prominent IT firms, has invested $250 million from its cash stockpile to purchase 21,454 Bitcoins.
CEO Michael Saylor is none too optimistic about the long-term future of the economy. Returns on its $550 million cash hoard are declining, and the dollar is weakening.
“Those macro factors include, among other things, the economic and public health crisis precipitated by Covid-19, unprecedented government financial stimulus measures including quantitative easing adopted around the world, and global political and economic uncertainty,” Saylor said. “We believe that, together, these and other factors may well have a significant depreciating effect on the long-term real value of fiat currencies and many other conventional asset types, including many of the assets traditionally held as part of corporate treasury operations.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia’s Racial Equity Task Force has released its final report, recommending 12 initiatives to promote “systemic change” and racial equity, and it’s everything you’d expect it to be. Reflecting the blinkered thinking of the academic Left, the report provides a lot of navel-gazing, virtue-signaling and window dressing while doing nothing to change the power structure at UVa or address the underlying causes of racial disparities in Virginia.
The task force proposes investing hundreds of millions of dollars toward equity initiatives, committing to “represent Virginia” in its study body demographics, hiring more minority faculty, and providing “anti-racism education” to all members of the University community. In contemporary academic parlance, “anti-racism” ideology insists that white privilege and white fragility underlie a system of white supremacy and must be extirpated. In other words, adopting these recommendations would place UVa among the institutions that replace critical thinking about race, poverty and justice with Leftist dogma.
Nothing in the report, “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” alludes to the high and increasing cost of attending UVa, the practices driving the increasing costs, or the burden those costs impose upon all lower-income students of whatever color. Nothing in the recommendations would threaten the mechanisms by which UVa transfers wealth from tuition-paying students to faculty and staff in the form of greater pay, perks and prestige. The proffered solution is to paper over the high costs by steering more academic aid to minority students. Continue reading
The Pellerito family: “We go through each day just trying our best. What are the new rules? What is right?”
by James A. Bacon
Give Amanda Chase credit for one thing: She knows how to get into the news. Whether the resulting headlines help the Chesterfield state senator win the Republican Party nomination for governor is quite another matter. The latest brouhaha over her refusal to wear a mask in a Harrisonburg restaurant is not likely to help.
After making a campaign stop in New Market over the weekend with rock musician Ted Nugent, Chase visited Vito’s Italian Kitchen in Harrisonburg for a meal. She did not wear a mask. On two separate occasions, according to her Facebook account, employees denied her service, even though she explained that she had an underlying health condition that did not allow her to wear one. Upon providing a letter from her doctor, she was provided service but “not without being harassed and belittled in front of other store patrons.”
Katharine Nye Pellerito, who owns the restaurant with her husband, posted her own version of the encounter on Facebook. Chase got confrontational and threatened to sue, she wrote. “The uncertainty of Covid … as it threatens our ability to maintain our restaurants has been exhausting, to say the least. Last night was tough. We go through each day trying our best What are the new rules? What is right? What does the law expect? Who is going to yell at us for trying to do the right thing today?” Continue reading
A Virginia voting booth. How quaint!
by James A. Bacon
It’s been twenty years since the Bush-Gore presidential election that brought the term “hanging chads” into common parlance. But that controversy, which plunged the nation into intense partisan acrimony, was mere dress rehearsal for what could be coming. Thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, there likely will be an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election. And if you thought it was difficult determining votes from punch cards that left dangling bits of paper, just wait until we start sorting out the confusion over mail-in ballots.
The potential for electoral chaos was driven home here in Virginia by the recent mass mailing of mail-in ballot request forms by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, the Center for Voter Information. A new Virginia law allowing no-excuse early voting for the 45-day period before election day. Asserting that voting by mail “keeps you healthy and safe,” the mailer urged voters to “just sign, date and complete the application.” The application forms had the recipient’s name and address pre-filled out.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook because of the absentee ballot forms,” Susan Saunders, Suffolk’s voter registrar, told the Suffolk News Herald. “It has created vast confusion.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Hamilton Lombard has posted some fascinating data on the University of Virginia Demographic Research blog, Stat Chat, that illuminates the income gap between whites and blacks. For Lombard’s spin on the data he presents, I suggest that you read his commentary here. It’s different from my take. I wouldn’t say that his interpretation and mine are in conflict, but I don’t want to imply that he would necessarily agree what I’m writing here.
The black-white income gap. The first point worth noting is that between 1950 and 1970 (inside the magenta circle in the chart above), when blacks’ economic opportunities were curtailed by segregated institutions, the gap between black and white incomes narrowed significantly. In the 50 years since then, the income gap between blacks and non-blacks has not budged.
“The fact that the income gap for Black Virginians has not changed considerably since 1970 is particularly notable,” writes Lombard, “because the intention of the Civil Rights Era reforms and the Great Society programs that have existed since the late 1960s are in large part to help close the income gap.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Here’s a question my wife and I have been asking ourselves recently: What if COVID-19 doesn’t go away?
From the beginning of the epidemic, we assumed that we (along with the rest of the country) were enduring a temporary inconvenience. We’d hunker down, restrict our social interactions, wear masks in indoor public places, avoid airplanes, and the like, and in a few months — by the end of the year at latest — it would be over and we could return to normal.
Now it is August, and the virus is spreading with no sign of respite. Our thinking has swung to the other extreme. We’re wondering, what if nothing works? What if the much-touted vaccinations are only partially effective? What if antibodies confer only temporary immunity? What if the virus mutates? What if all our efforts at “flattening the curve” do nothing but delay the inevitable and everyone — including us, and those we love — gets exposed to COVID-19 eventually?
Will there ever be a return to “normal”? And, if not, how long can we sustain the partial shutdown of our economy, the shuttering of public school buildings, the gusher of government red ink, and the helicoptering of relief dollars, all of which were predicated on the assumption that the virus would be tamed and all emergency responses would be temporary? Continue reading
Judging by the number of local requests for state assistance, the George Floyd-inspired protest movements are losing momentum. This chart documents the number of incidents since Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency “in response to widespread First Amendment protests and civil arrest.”
The chart comes from a euphemistically named “First Amendment Events” dashboard maintained by the Virginia Emergency Support Team, the outfit that mans the Virginia Emergency Operations Center. (The chart labels are is confusing. The “June” label appears to mark the end of the month, not the beginning.)
The Duncansville One-Room School Museum in Washington County.
by James A. Bacon
An enduring question in Virginia’s economic development community is how to revitalize the state’s rural counties. Traditional rural industries such as farming, mining, timbering, and light manufacturing are shrinking. Young people are leaving to seek better career opportunities elsewhere, and few people are moving in to replace them. A contracting workforce is not conducive to recruiting entrepreneurs and corporate investment.
Some commentators (I’m one of them) have suggested that rural counties build on their natural amenities such as bays, lakes, and mountains, to attract retirees and tourists. But not all counties are blessed with scenic beauty and recreational resources.
There is one policy lever that rural leaders do control, however, and that is K-12 education. Newly published research by Alexander Marré with the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank and Anil Rupasingha with the U.S. Department of Agriculture concludes that good schools encourage in-migration.
“Our results suggest that for the 2005–2009 time period, the quality of schools—as measured by the share of high school dropouts and nationally benchmarked mathematics and reading test scores—had a positive pull effect on migration to nonmetropolitan counties,” write the authors in an article published in the Journal of Regional Science. “Schools with better outcomes appear to draw in new in‐migrants, even after taking into account the fact that higher‐quality schools are more likely to be located in areas with higher median incomes.” Continue reading
I present here two readable accounts of Robert E. Lee, his tenure as president of Washington College, and his claims upon the modern imagination. The first was written by Washington & Lee journalism professor Toni Locy in a piece published in The Nation magazine, and the second by Al Eckes, W&L class of 1964, in an essay distributed by the General’s Redoubt, an ad hoc group of W&L grads formed to preserve Lee’s legacy at the university. The second essay includes a brief refutation of key points in Locy’s piece by Rex Wooldridge, secretary of the General’s Redoubt.
The essays are fascinating on two grounds: first for learning about a little-known phase of Lee’s life during a traumatic time of Virginia’s history, and second for the dueling interpretations of the man from a 21st century perspective. You will likely find much in both essays about the man and his times that you didn’t know before. I urge you to read them in tandem, and then decide for yourself whether Lee is worthy or not of being honored today.
Jim Bacon talks to John Reid with WRVA’s Richmond Morning News about NAH LLC, its $1.8 million contract to take down the Confederate statues, the mystery of who owns the company, and whether Mayor Levar Stoney followed proper procurement policy in hiring the company.
Thanks to COVID–19, super-duper high-tech manufacturing processes at Micron’s Manassas semiconductor plant are getting even more high-tech.
by James A. Bacon
Will the COVID-19 epidemic inspire the “re-shoring” of manufacturing to the United States and a revitalization of the U.S. manufacturing economy? If so, that could be great news for Virginia communities bet on manufacturing as a source of economic development.
The story is not a simple one. Several commentators in the latest edition of the Virginia Economic Review, published by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, explore the ramifications of the epidemic for global supply chains and corporate manufacturing strategies. While there is a consensus that corporations will seek to reduce their dependence upon China, the pundits have diverse views on how likely multinational corporations are to repatriate manufacturing operations to the U.S. and what kind of job skills would be required.
Here follows some of the pithier observations and quotes on the topic from the Review. Continue reading