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The Blue & Gray Press | February 18, 2018

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Va. Pushes Education Overhaul on Colleges

The University of Mary Washington has joined other Virginia state schools in its adoption of the policies of the “Top Jobs of the 21st Century (TJ21)” bill.  The bill, signed by Governor Bob McDonnell in June, promises to award 100,000 more college degrees to Virginia in-state students over the next 15 years.

McDonnell is quoted on the Virginia government education website as saying, “In order to get a good job, you need a good education. This is a jobs bill.”

This highlights the overall intention of the TJ21 initiative, which is to better prepare a larger number of students for high-paying, high-quality post-collegiate careers.

The goals of the bill, as summarized on the Virginia Legislative Information System website, include providing for a new higher education funding policy, calculating of the state general fund share of an institution’s basic operations and instruction funding need, having per student enrollment-based funding, targeted economic and innovation incentives, creating a Higher Education Advisory Committee and creating a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) public-private partnership.

As originally recommended by McDonnell’s bipartisan Commission on Higher Education Reform, there are ultimately three areas of focus for accomplishing these goals.  The first, economic opportunity, will give more students access to jobs in higher-income fields, which in turn will fuel Virginia’s economy.

Reform-based investment, the second area, extends more degree opportunities to students in ways to promise to be inventive and cost-effective.

Finally, the affordable access area of focus lays down a framework that increases access for qualified Virginia students at colleges and universities throughout the state.

President Rick Hurley intends for UMW to follow many objectives of the bill, and says that “most of the goals of TJ21 will be accomplished through specific funding mechanisms.  As a result, the state budget development process provides instructions to us on how to respond to these goals through specific funding requests.

UMW has submitted its own six-year plan which outlines initiatives it wants to institute with TJ21.  A revised plan was submitted as recently as Oct. 11, 2011.  The plan is not official yet, and instead focuses on initiatives that will prove to be helpful and beneficial to the university as a whole.

Additionally, the implementation of the strategies outlined in the plan is dependent on a number of factors, such as the level of state funding UMW receives, enrollment levels and the actions of the governor and General Assembly.  The focus is on the first two years of the six-year plan.

UMW has 28 academic objectives it included with its revised plan.  While most of the objectives be supported entirely by tuition, three are currently not.  The objectives include developing a five-year masters program in special education, increasing IT security staff and enhancing the library.  As stated in the plan, UMW would require $2,733,480 and $5,184,840 in additional state funding for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, respectively.

Both of these totals would fall within the tuition increase.

Many Virginia schools are cutting tuition costs to help incorporate the bill; however, UMW raised the cost of tuition last year.

“We originally considered a much higher tuition increase last year than we ultimately approved.  The lower figure was a reflection of the affordability issue,” according to Hurley.

McDonnell has stated that 6,000 new slots for in-state students have already been added for the 2011 fall semester.

Regarding UMW, Hurley said “UMW’s enrollment this year compared to last year is about the same which is by design.” He added that while some Virginia universities are looking to expand their number of students, UMW is not.