Mason Supports Affordable Higher Education Campaign

Posted: June 22, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

By Jennifer Edgerly

At a time when having a college degree has never been more important, it seems that the cost of attaining one is growing every day.

Growbydegrees2Fortunately for Virginians, the Virginia Business Higher Education Council’s Grow by Degrees campaign is pushing the commonwealth to make high-quality college degrees attainable and affordable.

It is clear that while the state’s budget has grown significantly since 2000, funding for Virginia’s colleges, universities and community colleges has declined sharply on a per-student basis.

According to the council, in constant dollars, per-student funding for Virginians at four-year colleges and universities has dropped roughly 40 percent since 2000—from $10,675 to $6,586 (excluding the temporary federal stimulus funding).

Much of this cost has been shifted to tuition-paying students, squeezing low- and middle-income family budgets during tough times and increasing the student-loan debt burden on young people just as they enter the work world.

“Virginia must break the boom-bust cycle of higher education funding by which state support for our public colleges, universities and community colleges is cut first and deepest whenever economic challenges appear,” says Don Finley, president of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council.

“Grow by Degrees advocates a sustained, long-term program of higher education investment and reform, embodied in state law, to ensure affordable access for Virginia students and to generate strong economic activity and growth revenues for the commonwealth.”

The Grow by Degrees coalition comprises business, community, education and economic development leaders and organizations throughout Virginia.

The coalition’s 2020 vision provides a blueprint for increasing the percentage of Virginians with college degrees to 50 percent by 2020—a goal that will place Virginia on course to be a national and international leader in educational attainment and personal income.

George Mason University is strongly supporting this initiative, says President Alan Merten.

“The facts are that Virginians who earn postsecondary degrees enjoy greater opportunities for good jobs, rewarding careers and high incomes, and are able to make positive contributions to society,” Merten notes.

Grow by Degrees has identified seven key policy priorities:
•    Awarding 70,000 more high-quality degrees over the next 10 years
•    Targeting the new degrees to high-income, high-demand job sectors
•    Creating cost-efficient new ways to access college degrees
•    Expanding job-specific training at community colleges
•    Increasing public-private collaboration on university-based research
•    Enhancing economic development and workforce initiatives in each region
•    Making college affordable for low- and middle-income students and families

The coalition plans to achieve these goals through four major activities:
•    Forming a “grasstops” advocacy coalition with near-term and sustainable impact
•    Conducting an intensive election-year dialogue on higher education’s impact on the Virginia economy
•    Encouraging a major higher education legislative initiative led by the new governor in 2010-11
•    Increasing understanding of higher education finance among General Assembly and executive branch officials

For more information or to become involved with Grow by Degrees, see the web site www.growbydegrees.org.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu