College gets more expensive every year, and Virginia's colleges and universities are, unfortunately, helping to lead that advance. Tuition is up over 100% over the past decade, and has been rising about 40% faster than the national average over the past five. On average, the annual tuition increase at four-year institutions in Virginia has been 10.5% in constant dollars and 8% at two-year colleges. This year, tuition is a full 13.1% higher than last - and the end appears nowhere in sight.
Average full-time undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees for in-state students currently stands at $5,670, and that's not counting other mandatory fees or room and board - another $8,349 - which is rising almost as fast. In all, tuition, fees, and room and board add up to nearly $18,000 / year for the average student. After a number of years in which Virginia hovered around the bottom of the top third of states in tuition costs, moreover, we shot up six places in three years and now Virginia stands as the 9th most expensive in the country.
Now, I'm not saying we should be the lowest. Virginia's public institutions of higher education set the bar high I know that Virginians are willing to assume the costs for that quality.
But they have the right to expect that we will be cost-conscious, too. Even comparisons to the national average are flawed, as public colleges and universities across the country provide cover for each other. Schools love to tout their position among their "peer group," but peer groups are subject to change, and everyone has increased costs too much.
When tuition and fees rise this quickly, they undermine the mission of our public colleges and universities - to provide quality higher education that is within reach of our students. We don't want to burden our students with mountains of debt, and we certainly can't allow tuition increases to place higher education out of reach.
A recent study conducted at the University of Texas yielded an interesting finding: 20% of the faculty teach 57.3% of the students, and 20% of the faculty generate 99.8% of the research funding received. There's some overlap between those groups, but even if there wasn't, it raises the question: where's the other 60%?
Now, I have no reason to believe that Virginia's colleges and universities are in the same position as the University of Texas. But I do know this: there are plenty of options we should consider before we seriously contemplate more double-digit tuition increases.
This past session, I voted for measures to improve and expand our community colleges and a variety of two-year degree and certification programs. That is an important component of efforts to keep higher education and expanded opportunity within reach of all Virginians. But if we allow our other institutions of higher education to become increasingly cost-prohibitive for many students, we won't be making any real progress. Keeping higher education affordable at all levels is vital - indeed, it's key to Virginia's economic vitality.
Making the Team
At least for candidates in Virginia, the preseason is over and the rosters set - and conservatives ought to be excited about how things are shaping up for this fall.
Selecting nominees took longer than usual this year due to the efforts of Senate Democrats to gerrymander a map that would ensure a Democratic majority. No matter how they tried to slice and dice Virginia, Senate Democrats couldn't come up with a way to keep down the conservative challenge.
Our playbook is conservative and our team is a strong one. We can't afford to underestimate the opposition, and I know that the path to 21 isn't going to be easy, but with great candidates like Dave Nutter, Tom Garrett, Dick Black, Miller Baker, Jason Flanary, and Jeff Frederick, I'm confident that Republicans will take back the majority.
A conservative majority in the Senate means the ability to implement the sort of common sense conservative values favored by the vast majority of Virginians: restrained and responsible state spending, strong right to work laws and a commitment to economic development, a better and more efficient transportation system that actually reforms VDOT, real tax reform (not just tax hikes disguised as tax reform), a commitment to strengthening Virginia's families, education reform (school choice and charter schools - which will serve to strengthen, not undermine our outstanding public schools)...
The matchups are good ones. Republicans are contesting 18 of the 22 seats currently held by Democrats, and McDonnell took 50% of the vote or better in 11 of those districts (and at least 45% in a further two). Democrats, on the other hand are contesting only two of the seats currently held by Republicans.
We've seen what happens when Republicans run common sense conservative candidates who stay true to their core values: we win!
We saw it in 2009 with the election of Governor McDonnell and a six seat gain in the House of Delegates. We saw it in 2010 with Republicans winning three congressional seats in Virginia. And we will see it in 2011 with a Republican majority in the Senate of Virginia.
It's an exciting time to be a Republican in Virginia. To my fellow Republicans and all those who stand for common sense conservative principles I say --
Let's go out and win in November!