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Governor Writes: “I remain very concerned about the affordability of post-secondary education for the young people of Virginia…..I need your leadership now in holding down in-state tuition and fee increases.”

RICHMOND – Following General Assembly passage of a biennial budget that provides over $230 million in new funding for Virginia’s higher education system, Governor Bob McDonnell is urging college presidents and boards to voluntarily endeavor to keep in-state tuition increases for the upcoming fall semester and beyond to the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. The Governor is committed to ensuring that every available higher education dollar goes to furthering academic opportunities at state-supported colleges and universities. The Governor made the request in a conference call with school officials in March, and again in a formal letter sent Friday. The average in-state tuition increase for the 2011-2012 school year in Virginia was 9.7%. The Consumer Price Index for the last 12 months, non-seasonally adjusted, was 2.7%. Virginia’s colleges and universities are currently determining tuition rates for the upcoming school year. Already the University of Virginia has announced a tuition increase of 3.7%, the lowest increase since 2001-2002.

In the letter, the Governor writes: “…I remain very concerned about the affordability of post-secondary education for the young people of Virginia. As I conveyed to you during our recent conference call, I need your leadership now in holding down in-state tuition and fee increases. During the last decade, Virginia students experienced on average, double-digit tuition increases annually. This trend is unacceptable and cannot continue. I, therefore, ask that you endeavor to keep in-state tuition increases for the fall semester and beyond to the increase in the Consumer Price Index, because we cannot let dramatic price increases be a deterrent to higher education for all qualified and motivated Virginians.

…We know in Virginia that 58% of students graduate with an average of over $23,000 in debt according to the Project on Student Debt. I heard directly from hundreds of students earlier this year and received petitions from thousands more prior to the session as part of Virginia21’s “What’s Your Number?” campaign focusing on reducing student debt. We must do everything we can to control operating costs, limit tuition increases, and reinvest state general fund dollars in our colleges and universities to reduce the amount of student borrowing. It is simply unsustainable for more of our young people to be saddled with decades of debt, which can impede their access to the cherished American Dream.

My introduced budget provided over $100 million in new operating funding for each year of the next biennium for higher education institutions. I also included $10 million in years FY 12, FY 13, and FY 14 to eliminate the reduction to higher education held in Central Appropriations since the 2010 legislative session. The significant total funding increase of close to $250 million was proposed despite modest state revenue gains, which meant setting priorities. The Budget finally passed on Wednesday generally supports my proposals by investing $230 million in new money into higher education, and I applaud the General Assembly for its partnership in this effort. I’ve just begun reviewing the budget in greater detail and may consider changes through executive amendments to clarify and strengthen these critical initiatives….

…We recognize that your institutions have not fully recovered from the reductions which began in 2007, but together we must continue to find internal operating efficiencies and implement best practices to educate more students in a more cost effective manner. It is my plan to continue to make new investments in higher education in future budgets as the economy improves. The more higher education institutions moderate in-state tuition and fee growth, the more likely it will be that I can secure additional state funding from the legislature. Keeping a lid on tuition increases is in the best interest of our students and families, as well as the future of our Commonwealth.”

The full letter is available here: from Governor McDonnell.pdf