Sunday, August 8, 2010

College becoming more of a luxury in Virginia

It's that time of year again when scores of kids head off to college.  From small colleges to major universities, friends and classmates will reconnect, socialize, and renew their efforts to earn that undergraduate degree.  The difference this year is that the price has gone up, making that piece of paper more of a luxury that only the rich can afford. 

Just as Virginia's transportation infrastructure continues to be underfunded, Higher Education continues in a similar trajectory.  As pointed out by Sunday's editorial in the Roanoke Times and the the August Report from the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) on 2010-2011 Tuition and Fees, the cost of state supported Higher Education is rapidly becoming unaffordable for most Virginians. 

Not since the 1994-1995 academic year has Virginia's in-state colleges and universities been so expensive.  For five straight years Virginia has cut the budget for Higher Education, shifting more of the burden onto the shoulders of financially strapped families and students working their way through school.  Students will have to pay $838 more this year over last at a four year institution.  At Community Colleges, they will pay $504 more this lear than last for a full load of classes.  Sad to say but that's money that many people don't have since the economy is struggling to recover and millions continue to be unemployed.  The tragedy of it all, getting that undergraduate degree doesn't even guarantee the promise of a living standard that is near that of their parents, or better.

Conservatives continue the call for tax cuts and more cuts to state spending.  Just like the GOP's refusal to consider raising the gas tax at the state level to shore-up transportation funding, they refuse to consider any increase in Virginia's antiquated state income tax or the sales tax.  But, they will consider increasing fees for administrative services, driver's licenses, marriage licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, etc...

At some point, Conservatives will have to make a decision as to how important education is to Virginia.  Not just Higher Education, primary and secondary education too.  Virginia now ranks in the Top 10 in the country for the most expensive in-state tuition.

Conservatives proudly advocate for "personal responsibility" and the celebration of "American Individualism" while at the same time they work to change the rules or move the goal post, making it even harder for those on the receiving end of their scorn to achieve the lifstyle only a Republican can enjoy.  This pattern of inaction by Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly leads me to conclude that it's intentional and they only want a wealth social elite to benefit from a college level education. 

There was a time when higher education was affordable and our lawmakers recognized that if you make it affordable to as large a segment of our citizenry, this investment in people will reap massive benefits.  Because education is available to everyone at the primary and secondary level, and Higher Education has been relatively affordable, this better educated citizenry saw major increases in living standards and made us the most productive nation on the planet.  All of this is now in jeopardy, and we are now moving back to a place where not only wealth, but education, is going to be concentrated in the hands of a select few. 

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