Virginia's 39th House District
Vivian's Views: Higher Education
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Virginia has some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. We must make sure that this excellence continues and that there is room for all qualified students coming from Northern Virginia. All post-high school education must be available based on the student's skill and academic ability – not on ability to pay – through financial aid and alternatives to residential universities. Relevant certification and licensure programs need to be expanded.
Over the last two decades in Virginia, state funding of higher education has dropped from covering 2/3 of the cost of an in-state undergrad student’s education to less than 1/2. This decline combined with college programing decisions have driven tuition increases significantly above inflation. By the academic year ending in 2015, in-state undergrad tuition and fees at Virginia institutions ranked
- 6th highest in the nation for non-doctoral institutions,
- 13th highest for doctoral/research institutions, and
- 17th highest for community college.
In the 2019 Session, we enacted the first tuition freeze since 2002 by denying a funding increase out of the $53 million in new money to any institution that raised its tuition. Obviously, we need to do more to control costs and rein-in alarming student debt, however, because income inequality is now greater than it’s been since 1928, it also is essential that we make need-based student assistance a major focus of restoring state support.
Another element is to continue to develop lower cost options to get a 4-year degree, such as seamless credit for first two years at a community college, work/study public private initiatives, specific credit for military training and job responsibilities, as well as, dual enrollment during high school. As the first in my family to graduate from college, I also appreciate the need to provide targeted support to help ensure the success of students from underserved groups.
Nationwide student debt totaled nearly $1.5 trillion by March 2019, double what was owed 10 years ago. To the degree that, as a state, Virginia can increase oversight over federally administered practices, I strongly support strengthened oversight of student loans and servicers, particularly in how payments are applied to reduce the principle, interest accrual, control of interest rates, oversight of payment schedules related to income, and honoring public service or employment in critical fields to reduce or eliminate loans. In addition, the availability of loans to attend any non-public institution should be tied to the intuition’s graduation and employments rates.
Diverse higher education options are critical in strengthening Virginia's economy, as well as closing employment equity gaps and offering socioeconomic mobility. A comprehensive study revealed that 50-65% of the 1.5 million job vacancies over the next decade in Virginia will require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma. The building trades and health technology make up most of the demand, but the top need is in every aspect of computer security. We must continue efforts launched by that study to develop relevant post-high school professional credentials through community college and state-certified apprentice programs and to support young persons leaving the military to convert their military training into civilian degrees and credentialing.
In 2019, Virginia was ranked by CNBC as the #1 State for Business using a combined weighting of ten factors. Virginia’s top rankings were both related to education. We ranked first in the nation in the quality of our workforce and first in our education program from kindergarten through advanced degrees. It was Virginia’s commitment to enhance higher education STEM degrees (not cash incentives as were offered by other states) that was the major element in Amazon’s decision to locate headquarter operations in Virginia. Their decision will influence other major employers as Virginia continues its recent aggressive marketing to diversify our economy from 30% being tied to federal spending. Higher Education is the path to Virginia's economic future -- as much as it is to personal opportunity and human progress.
We enacted important reforms and procedures in 2015 to establish broader responsibility for supporting victims appropriately and stipulating the responsibility of law enforcement regarding sexual assaults on public and private campuses in Virginia. We also established protocals for information on a student's records being shared should the student transfer. Feedback on how these changes are playing out is very important to focus on whether refinements in the law are necessary.
Recent tracking at individual campuses revealed a high concentration of sexual assault reports around freshmen housing. This underscores a need for effective awareness programs and counseling targeted at entering freshmen. Of course, an important goal of such freshmen awareness programs is to prevent aggressive sexual behavior, define consent, and stress potential punishment. However, I sincerely hope that open, early public discussion will help break the shame and stigma felt by victims that, too ofter, keeps them from reporting the assault and that significantly effects their higher education performance.
I also am concerned that, given changes in federal judicial appointments, the protections of Title IX must not be taken for granted and each campus should undertake adopting procedures that institutionalize current Title IX provisions and court rulings, with the General Assembly codifying in Virginia law those provisions that are not currently covered.