Three Years in Virginia

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Colleges need to “rethink their missions,” said Virginia’s governor, Republican Bob McDonnell. According to an article by Karin Kapsidelis in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A combination of state resources and internal restructuring will be required to improve access and affordability, McDonnell said after meeting with his Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment.

“Not every university needs to be all things to all people,” McDonnell told reporters. In its first full meeting, at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian campus, McDonnell gave the 45-member commission a mandate to come up with a plan that is “both visionary and achievable.”

Whoa, that’s some vaguery.

McDonnell pointed out that tuition at Virginia’s state universities had doubled in the last decade. This means some people just don’t go to college and those who do often end up carrying a lot of debt. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Unfair it may be but, according to the article, “over the decade, per-student state support has declined by 50 percent in constant dollars.”

McDonnell did not commit to changing that and providing more per-student state support for public higher education. The only thing to which McDonnell actually appeared to commit was that fake silver bullet solution known as the three-year degree. As the Kapsidelis piece puts it:

With dual-enrollment classes, some students can receive a degree in three years, for example. They may miss a year of parties, [the governor] said, but they’ll save their parents money and create slots for other students.

But a Virginia student—like students everywhere—can already, if he’s very, very careful and awfully hard-working, use AP classes and summer semesters to earn a bachelor’s degree three years after he graduates from high school. McDonnell’s commission is unlikely to do anything to make those three year degrees any more common than they already are.

Virtually all of the options that allow students to lop off a year of college are already available; getting out in three years simply isn’t attractive to (or often financially possible for) students.

It would be more effective for the Virginia governor to instruct his gigantic commission (at 45 members it’s almost Soviet sized) to focus on the inefficiencies that already exist within the system (and, incidentally, in other states) making four years difficult, without the tease that maybe parents might save money through less partying on the part of their offspring. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer