It’s time to give Virginia’s colleges and universities some “tough love,” House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said yesterday.
The answer to sky-rocketing increases in the cost of attending college is not tuition freezes, caps, unfunded mandates or other one-size-fits-all measures like those that surfaced in the General Assembly last session, the Speaker said in a speech to the GO Virginia Foundation board meeting in Richmond.
But he added: “If the higher education institutions do not come together with the state government and the business community to address affordability in a meaningful and tangible way… if they do not support common-sense reforms like the bill passed by the House of Delegates last session to allow public comment before raising tuition… then I fear there will be little anyone can do to stop a wave of policy proposals along those very lines.”
Cox issued the warning while addressing the broader topic of the link between workforce development and economic development. In the most concrete proposal of his speech, he called for partnerships between government, business and individual higher education institutions that spell out (1) what the school will commit, (2) what the state will invest, and (3) what the business partners will contribute.
“We don’t need more people playing politics with the price of education, but we also don’t need people with their heads in the sand, pretending the problem doesn’t exist,” he said. “We need people partnering in practical ways to bring the price of education down!”
There is no silver bullet or quick fix on college affordability. We need to move forward on a range of solutions: alternative pathways; transfer programs; online options; cost-saving innovations; more efficient collaboration among institutions; more help for students through financial aid, TAG grants, and work-study opportunities and so on. …
In the institutional partnership agreements that I envision … in return for a financial commitment from the Commonwealth, each school will make transparent commitments concerning the four-year net cost of attendance for in-state undergraduates, the internship and work-study opportunities that will be provided, and the maximum student loan debt levels that any Virginia student may incur.
Virginians cannot expect tuition predictability and restraint at the campus level if the General Assembly cannot provide “adequate, reliable funding,” Cox said in a reference to erratic state support for higher education. But he placed much of the onus for declining affordability and access on the higher-ed institutions.
“Higher education is at a pivotal moment,” Cox said. “We have never needed our higher ed system more than we do now … because it is the key to the talent pipeline, and the talent pipeline is the key to the future. But, at the same time, higher ed’s political position has never been shakier.” The bond of trust between colleges and elected officials “has never been more at risk.”
If our colleges and their leaders don’t recognize the shift in public opinion on higher education…. if they don’t understand how the populist message is resonating…. and if they don’t come to the table seriously on the points of greatest concern — affordability and accountability — then it is very likely that the criticism will reach critical mass, and it will be impossible to maintain the progress we have made.
The talent pipeline. In one of the most comprehensive speeches on workforce development to come from a Republican legislator in recent years, Cox affirmed the need for an educational system that provides young Virginians with the skills they need to participate in a growing economy.
“What we hear from Virginia businesses, large and small, is this: The main reason their business is not growing is they can’t find qualified workers.” At the same time, Virginia is experiencing a brain drain — unable to find good jobs here, people are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. For four straight years, he said, Virginia has experienced a “net loss of talent” to other states.
The “build it and they will come” approach is not only ineffective. It costs too much… is too resistant to innovation… moves too slowly to keep up with the fast-changing economy… and, frankly, is too old-school and uncool to appeal to eager, creative, tech-savvy young people.
Cox embraced the goal of making Virginia the Top State for Talent, similar to the long-term objective stated by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to make Virginia the best educated state in the country. But he stressed that increasing the number of college graduates must be accompanied by efforts to provide grads with meaningful employment, or they will leave.
The Speaker called for “dramatically increasing” internships, coop programs and other work-study opportunities. Citing a WalletHub ranking, he noted that Virginia ranks a “dismal 42nd” among the 50 states in student aid and work-study opportunities.
As part of any workforce initiative, Cox said, Virginia will need to reach beyond traditional college-bound student populations. That means conferring more degrees and credentials upon veterans, adults with partial college credit, working adults retraining for new careers, and first-generation and under-represented student populations, especially those in poor urban and rural areas.
Empowering students as consumers. Virginia needs to empower students and their families as educational consumers, Cox said. Colleges need to be transparent about graduation rates and time to completion. They need to track student success after graduation and report the numbers. They need to tell students and families up-front not only what it costs to earn a particular degree or training program, but what kind of return on investment they can expect.
The return-on-investment information is absolutely critical. On the one hand, the $30,000 average debt that students incur seems intolerably high. On the other hand, the average price of a new car today is about $32,000, and most folks buy multiple cars over their lifetimes. So it matters a lot what you get for that college investment.
SCHEV collects considerable data already on graduation rates, student loans, and wage outcomes. Cox did not specify which additional data sets he advocates collecting or how he thinks that data might be presented.
While Cox appeared to be most concerned about holding colleges and universities accountable, he also demanded more of businesses. “What we need from you and other top business leaders in this state is hands-on engagement and support at every stop of the process,” he told the GO Virginia board members.
Wrapping up, he said: “There simply is no more important work we can do in this Commonwealth developing our talent pipeline, ensuring that every Virginian has affordable access to it, and producing measurable results for the people of Virginia.”There are currently no comments highlighted.