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remains in doubt.
When the top three
universities first
proposed their charter
initiative, for example,
they never envisioned
an eventual outcome
that would obligate
them to meeting a
host of state goals in
return for gaining
control over tuition
and management. But
that’s what they got.
Amy Sebring,
higher education
analyst for the Senate Finance Committee, said the idea of
imposing goals on the universities grew out of concerns that
the public needed to be well-served by any structural change.
“As the conversation moved on,” she said, “legislators and
the governor’s office began asking the questions, ‘What does
the state get out of this? How does this process translate into
improved education opportunities?’”
Numbering 11 in all, the state goals range widely from
increasing enrollment of lower-income students to stimulating
economic development and raising graduation rates.
Meeting the goals could
leave the universities in
something of a sweat. The State
Council of Higher Education
for Virginia (SCHEV) will first
develop “metrics” to measure
progress toward the goals,
and the universities will be
required to show how they will
satisfy those metrics in their
management agreements and
various other documents.
SCHEVwill then employ
a “gap analysis” to determine
whether the plans will, in fact,
achieve the goals. If a gap is
detected between the plans
and the goals, the schools will
be required to upgrade their
Even after the management
agreements are approved, the
goals will continue to haunt the
universities. Each year, SCHEVwill review the performance
of each campus, measuring their success. If a campus is found
to be lacking, its agreement can be revoked.
consider vital to retaining academic quality, has eluded them.
In 2008, with state revenues lower than expected, the legislature
approved a tuition increase of only three percent for the 2008-09
academic year, plus an additional one percent for student financial aid.
“The General Assembly view was that the state is having tough times,
families are having tough times, so higher education will have to pick
up its share,” said Don Finley, president of the Virginia Business Higher
Education Council.
But most institutions had planned for larger increases. For instance,
George Mason University raised tuition 8.5 percent in 2007-08 and had
envisioned a similar increase the following year.
In an attempt to hold tuitions down, the legislature created a
“Tuition Moderation Incentive Fund” that would provide the schools
with an additional two percent
(for a total increase of six
percent) from the annual
tuition and fee revenue that
flows to the state. For 2008-09,
that amounted to about $17.5
million, to be divided among
the institutions.
This fell far short of what
the schools said they needed,
forcing them to face a dilemma:
They could accept the limit,
or raise tuition more than
that, risking the legislature’s
displeasure. But the issue
turned out to be short-lived. In
2009, faced with a continuing
state budget shortfall, the
General Assembly decided to discontinue the incentive fund for
2010, and no tuition increase limit was set for in-state undergraduate
“That’s a serious problem,” said Richmond attorney Lane Kneedler,
one of the architects of the restructuring plan. “If the major schools
decide to raise tuition eight or nine percent, they need to be prepared
for a battle to avoid caps.”
“Many think this goes against the whole idea of restructuring,”
Finley said.
In return for the new grants of authority, schools must agree to
pursue a set of state goals. These include improving student retention
and graduation rates and taking steps to make postsecondary
education more accessible and more affordable. (“The original 11 goals
have subsequently been expanded to include a 12th: “Seek to ensure
the safety and security of the Commonwealth’s students on college and
university campuses.”)
All of this is spelled out in “management agreements” between
each school and the state. The State Council for Higher Education
in Virginia (SCHEV) monitors these agreements and issues annual
certifications to those that have complied.
“This is kind of murky work, and it’s hard to know what has been
achieved,” said Peter Blake, vice chancellor for workforce development
in the Virginia community college system. “We’re still looking for a
coordinated vision of where the state needs to be” in areas such as
enrollment, tuition and achievement.
John Bennett, senior vice president for finance and administration
at Virginia Commonwealth University, summed up the restructuring
efforts this way: “It’s a work in progress. All of the elements are in place
but it’s going to take a while to work out the details.”
—William Trombley
The University of Virginia’s Leonard Sandridge
believes the benefits of the agreement “will
come with time.”
Tom Cogill for CrossTalk
A $1.3 billion tax
increase in 2004
was aimed, in large
part, at restoring
some of the lost
funding for Virginia’s
public colleges and
The University of
Virginia, Virginia Tech
and the College of
William and Mary can
now plan and build
their own academic
buildings without
prior approval from
state agencies.