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afternoon in his office. “We have constructed these worthy
goals for both sides, things like access to higher ed, and
focusing on more research. The question is, can we translate
these goals into a working arrangement that gets us where we
want to go? I’m an optimist and I believe we can, but it’s going
to take patience and good will on both sides.”
Asked about potential sticking points in the negotiations
over management agreements, Warner paused and then
offered a hypothetical example. “Say the state needs more
teachers and more engineers, and say a university campus
comes to us with a proposed agreement that puts heavy
emphasis on literature or the humanities, and less on the
development of teachers and engineers. At that point we will
say, ‘Hold it, that’s not part of the deal. You need to re-work
your plan to reflect the state’s needs.’”
Exactly how campuses such as UVA or William andMary
would react to such directives remains to be seen. But most
college administrators seem guardedly optimistic that the
agreements will leave them better off than before.
“Things are not going to change instantaneously,” said
Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president at the University
of Virginia. “This is an agreement to develop a joint plan with
the state, and the benefits will come with time. We have every
intention of looking back over the next decade and saying, yes,
the [restructuring] was smart, and it improved the system of
higher education in Virginia.”
The changes will be slow in coming because the new
structure alters the management of the campuses, and alters
who
will have ultimate management authority, but does not
directly address the underlying cause of the preceding decade’s
trauma: the paucity of dollars coming fromRichmond.
“Nothing in the legislation changes the amount of state
funding for higher education,” said John Bennett, the state’s
finance secretary. “When the legislation was proposed, the
argument made by the universities was that state funding was
completely unreliable from year to year. They were right. So
this legislation, among other things, is an attempt to make the
funding more reliable, not necessarily to increase the amount.”
The new structure seeks to accomplish that goal by using
a teeter-totter formula for balancing state funding and tuition
hikes. As one element goes up, the other goes down.
For example, each campus is required to submit to the
state detailed financial projections over a six-year period,
estimating tuition hikes under a variety of scenarios. Under
a “good” scenario of increased state funding, a particular
institution might commit itself to tuition increases in the
range of eight to ten percent. Under a “bad” scenario of
reduced funding, tuition would rise more sharply to make up
the difference.
While that tradeoff might make common sense, it is
a tradeoff that was denied Virginia’s institutions through
most of the ’90s. On more than one occasion, the legislature
reduced state funding and simultaneously froze tuition.
“We think the agreements will make transparent the
relationship between state funding and tuition increases,
and that’s good,” saidWilliam andMary’s Timothy Sullivan.
“In Virginia, the real question should not be, ‘How high
is tuition?’ but ‘Why is tuition as high as it is?’ With the
agreements in place, the answer to that second question
should become clear.”
The political momentum for restructuring grew out of an
unusual coalition of Republican legislators and Democratic
Governor Warner that supported the notion of a thriving
higher education system. This coalition also worked together
in 2004 to pass a $1.3 billion tax increase that was aimed, in
large part, at restoring some of the lost funding for Virginia’s
public colleges and universities.
“It may sound hard to believe, but politics never entered
the picture in the discussions about higher education,” said
John H. Chichester, a
leading Republican in
the state Senate. “We
started talking with
the governor two years
ago about the state
of higher education
which, at the time, was
very rocky. Both sides
wanted to improve
things and sometimes
we had different issues,
but it never became a
Republican-Democratic
thing.”
No one knows,
however, whether the coalition will hold in the future.
Warner is scheduled to leave office early next year, and the
political chemistry in the capital could change under a new
administration.
“The extent to which other governors will feel bound
by the deal is unknown,” said David Breneman, dean of the
Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
“Already, one of the candidates running to succeedWarner
Virginia Governor Mark Warner hopes higher education restructuring will cause
campuses to consider state manpower needs.
The new structure
uses a teeter-
totter formula for
balancing state
funding and tuition
hikes. As one
element goes up, the
other goes down.
Dennis Brack, Black Star, for CrossTalk