This Little Piggy Went to General Assembly…

by James A. Bacon

With all the hungry piggies pushing for mo’ state money, the feeding trough is getting crowded. Besides the K-12 piggy (squealing for an extra $950 million), the Virginia Retirement System piggy (an extra $215.6 million), and the monstrous Medicaid piggy (the sky’s the limit — how much money do you have?), we can add the higher-ed piggy. A State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) report concludes that the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities need an additional $212 million in the next biennial budget for operations and financial aid, and $826 million for capital outlays.

Here’s a breakdown of the operational funding needs:

  • Affordability and excellence ($113.5 million): Cover growth in operational costs at public institutions; expand need-based financial aid for low- and middle-income students; and increase the Tuition Assistance Grant program to students attending private, nonprofit institutions.
  • Access and success ($73.3 million): Improve information and resources available to students; increase funding for Virginia’s community colleges; and invest in programs to improve access and completion.
  • Talent development ($18.7 million): Build on a statewide internship program; support investment in instruction-related and research equipment; increase funding to support the Tech Talent Investment Program; and improve the alignment between institutional programs and workforce shortages.
  • Efficiency, effectiveness and planning and other areas of support ($6.9 million): With the goal of supporting “more stable tuition and fees growth in the coming years,” review costs and funding models, consider building funding reserves, and support agency efforts and collaborative initiatives.

And here’s a breakdown of capital funding requests by institution:

Click image to enlarge.

Here’s what SCHEV is asking of the higher ed institutions themselves:






Yup, that’s a goose egg.

The Council resolution includes the following verbiage: “Whereas, Virginia’s higher education system is a shared responsibility of the state, institutions and students and parents to reach the highest level of performance and accountability…”

The SCHEV report focuses almost exclusively on the state’s responsibilities, and gives almost zero attention to the institutions’ responsibilities.

SCHEV’s proposals do give a nod to “efficiency, effectiveness and planning.” The recommendations propose $150,000 annually for two years to contract with an outside consultant to provide a comprehensive “efficiency and effectiveness” review of structures, processes, policies and outcomes. As an example of the kind of study it has in mind, the report cites a University System of Maryland study that identified “cost avoidance, cost savings, revenue, and strategic reallocation,” which yielded $356 million in savings over 10 years.

The paltry magnitude of the savings — averaging $35.6 million per year — indicates, however, that the review did not address the fundamental drivers of runaway spending such as administrative bloat, gold-plating of facilities, or declining faculty productivity. In other words, SCHEV is asking for money to spend two years studying items that, some time in the future, might yield some marginal savings but require no painful self-examination by the colleges and universities.

“Responsibilities” appear to be a one-way street. Students and parents are responsible for higher tuition, taxpayers are responsible for more in state support, and the universities continue to grow with minimal accountability.

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5 responses to “This Little Piggy Went to General Assembly…”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    As for capital funding requests, the $826 million does not include $783 million for projects previously approved and in the planning stages. Higher ed institutions have submitted a total of $1.7 million in GF-related capital requests to DPB for consideration in the budget. The total estimated cost of these projects is $2.2 billion. The difference between the $1.7 billion in GF and the overall total of $2.2 billion would be made up with the institutions’ “own” funds–donations, student fees, etc. That is $1.7 billion for higher ed alone, on top of the billions that have been provided in the last 5 years. At DPB, we had a saying: “As far as higher ed is concerned, there will never be enough.”

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      My four years on SCHEV led me to the same conclusion. Somehow the bad food, AC-less grubby dorms, and lack of entertainment worked just fine for us. Maybe the profs weren’t paid that well but none were starving that I could see. We had class on snow days, too (cue the tiny violins….)

      Many are on this tear that “capitalism” is the problem these days, but it is the fat, happy and rapacious services sector (universities, hospitals and other medical providers, and government itself ) draining the pockets of the middle class. The stories about the vicious hospital billing and collection practices have been under-reported.

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Whereas, given the total lack of a Republican party message to Virginians this year, and,

    Whereas, given that the Democratic party’s message this year in Virginia has been non stop in word, deed, paradox, and vote buying, and

    Whereas, given that those running the Commonwealth of Virginia appear to engaged in a headlong and near hysterical rush to replicate the cultural and moral collapse of those running the states of California and New York to ruin.

    Now, therefore I offer another point of view, this a non political point of view, from a Catholic priest whose intellect, integrity, wisdom, and good works, I have long admired:

    “Fr. Rutler’s Weekly Column
    November 10, 2019

    Life in New York City can be hard for anyone who has difficulty accommodating paradoxes. For instance, the same City Council that has just banned the sale of foie gras on the grounds that it involves cruelty to force-fed geese, previously made New York the first city to pay mothers from other states to come here for abortions. With all due respect to Mother Goose, it seems hyperbolic to treat the over-feeding of ducks and geese as more inhumane than the destruction of the most helpless humans. Babies are human, yet there are those who do not see anything inhumane about killing a human child right up to birth.

    Another curiosity that becomes “curiouser and curiouser,” as Alice described Wonderland, was the recent decision of our mayor’s wife to include among proposed statues honoring women, two men who attained fame by pretending to be women. By sane logic, that would be like honoring the women of the Revolution with a statue of Benjamin Franklin dressed as Martha Washington.

    Another proposed statue celebrates a woman notorious for her promotion of infanticide, the majority of infants killed being female. In a poll to decide who should deserve a statue, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini won first place by a landslide. But in her 67 years of humanitarian work, she established 67 institutions, all of which promoted the dignity of life from womb to grave, with no aborting of babies or giving poison pills to the sick and elderly. The saint’s broken English would have been at a loss to describe men with husbands or women with wives.

    Mother Cabrini’s labors were too exhausting for her to worry about foie gras, which she probably could not afford anyway. Yet the mayor’s wife defied voters and eliminated the saintly woman from the list of honorees. That is no problem, though, because the same Catholic Church that “social progressives” slander as sexist, has more statues of women than the profligate City Council—with its hundreds of millions of dollars of unaccounted funds—couldever hope to match, and they include countless images of Mother Cabrini.

    Saints are the greatest people who ever lived, but to acknowledge their existence means that you have to acknowledge God, who alone is the source of heroic grace that raises human nobility to the level of sanctity. This is why the saints are nervously ignored by cynics who hold holy innocence in contempt.

    The newly canonized John Henry Newman preached: “What if wicked men took and crucified a young child? What if they deliberately seized its poor little frame, and stretched out its arms, nailed them to a cross bar of wood, drove a stake through its two feet, and fastened them to a beam, and so left it to die?”

    Perhaps our mayor’s wife might explain why Christ, more innocent even than an infant, was crucified, or how his suffering for our sins compares with foie gras.

    Faithfully yours in Christ,

    Father George W. Rutler”

    For more, please go to:

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    For Capital funding, I’d like to see what VDOT is doing with Smart Scale spread to other capital funding in the budget.

    And that is – allocate a fixed amount – whatever the budget folks think they can afford on a per budget basis – then let the projects compete based on scoring that is base on metric factors and cost-effectiveness.

    The GA could still override if they want but a process that works like that will institute more careful proposals that are vetted for need and cost.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      DPB played with implementing such an approach to capital projects many years ago. The problem would be how to rate projects across different areas. For example: major upgrades to a prison vs. a new science building at Va. Tech. Or additional cabins at a state park vs. a student center at a community college. Any sort of rating scale would be largely subjective. That is not the case with the Smart Scale. Highway projects can be evaluated with a standard set of objective metrics–vehicle miles, person throughput, congestion mitigation, etc. However, I would not be surprised if Aubrey Layne, now Secretary of Finance, but formerly Secretary of Transportation and a big proponent of the Smart Scale, tried to institute a similar manner of rating for capital projects in general.

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