BY ERIC STEIGLEDER
On Jan. 6, The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) released a report recommending that 5 percent to 30 percent of funds acquired through tuition hikes be reinvested into making college more affordable for low-income students.
The Council’s report found that students of families classified as poor or working-class must allocate nearly 31 percent of their income in order to meet the demands of a two-year public college. This figure includes students who are already recipients of need-based financial aid.
In the face of impending budget cuts, the University is considering a wide array of options, one of these being tuition and fee increases. The Council suggests that a portion of these profits will be used to ease the financial woes of students with less than adequate incomes.
Executive Vice President Rick Hurley was clear about what such an investment would mean.
“If adopted now,” he said, “it means less tuition increase dollars being used to help offset the budget reduction.”
With a recommended budget reduction of $1,917,808 in 2009 and a $3,573,822 cut in 2010 from Governor Tim Kaine, Hurley is aware of the ramifications of additional expenditures.
“My only concern is adopting such a policy in budget reduction times,” Hurley said. “Because I believe we should use every tuition increase dollar to ensure, as much as possible, that we continue to support a high quality academic program.”
According to an article in the Free Lance-Star, the “recommendations will be forwarded to the General Assembly, which has the final say.”
Assistant Director of Communications at The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Kathleen Kincheloe, explained that the Free Lance-Star article was potentially misleading because although the General Assembly could potentially act on the Council’s recommendations, there is no planned legislation for the current session.
“SCHEV is a coordinating board,” she said. “Not a governing board.”
According to Kincheloe, the Council has no legislation power over Virginia’s public university, and will not be working to have legislation passed by the General Assembly.
Hurley is not aware of any impending legislation concerning the Council’s recommendation.
“I do not think the recommendation goes to the General Assembly,” he said. “Although I could be wrong. Clearly the General Assembly can act on it if they choose to do so.”
Kincheloe expressed concern over the misinterpretation of the Council’s recommendation.
“I think that it has been misconstrued in a way,” she said. “Yes, it has been sent to the General Assembly. But it has also been disseminated to university presidents, Boards of Visitors, and various advisory groups.”
According to Kincheloe, the only purpose of the recommendations was to bring attention to the in-state students who will need financial help following the proposed budget cuts.
“The SCHEV does not have the power to compel public universities to do anything,” she said. “To our knowledge, there will be no legislation.”
When asked about the Free Lance-Star’s implication that the administration was worried about the Council’s recommendations, Hurley was matter-of-fact.
“Worried is the wrong description,” he said. “Concerned is a better one.”