Virginia’s State Higher Education System – A Concept for Magnet Schools among the Smaller Ones

Radford University

by James C. Sherlock

Yesterday I posted an article listing a series of challenges facing Virginia’s Institutions of Higher Learning.

Today I will offer a concept for a solution designed to address both the cost of a 4-year degree and the thriving of the smaller schools.

Create a magnet school program in the smaller schools:

  • for majors that are increasing in popularity; and
  • to meet Virginia’s critical workforce needs.

To reduce costs for the schools and students, the magnet schools would focus on attracting third- and fourth-year undergraduates to a limited number of magnet majors as transfers from the community college system.

They inevitably would get some third-year transfers from the larger schools for strong majors, but that is not the focus.

The Community College system already has its guaranteed entry program, with courses specified by and tailored for specific institutions.

To strengthen specific departments, the schools would need to spend money.

I recommend developing a state fund administered by SCHEV, access to which would require firm plans not only to strengthen specific departments, but also to cut costs elsewhere.

The largest schools would not be permitted to apply, with a potential exception of a program for undergraduate nursing and education student stipends.

SCHEV would ensure that the sum of the program expands opportunities for Virginia students in majors growing in popularity. Oversight would be necessary to make sure those majors each are represented in one or more magnet schools.

Participation by schools should be voluntary, but a combination of the new funding, stronger academics and, for many, the lack of a viable alternative, should attract them.

Faculties may support the change, if for no other reason that it offers to increase tenured faculty positions, which is an opportunity rarer and rarer these days. If the program guarantees that administrators will not increase, or preferably decrease, in number, faculties will like it even more.

The state also should consider its own workforce needs, so nurse and teacher production can be considered for the additional funding when choosing the winners and losers in the funds allocation.

For smaller schools that already have nursing and education programs, and some do, the funds could be used as annual stipends both to strengthen the departments and to lower tuition costs for those majors.

It would not be meant to make small state schools larger, but rather stronger, and to lower 4-year costs to students and parents.

Considerable research and state meetings would be necessary before such a program could be approved and funded.

Or SCHEV and the schools can develop and alternative plan.

But this time there should be a much broader participation in the consultations for plan design than is traditional.