In the midst of a budget crisis
VERY FEW people will complain about having too much money. Perhaps that is why you can hear so much complaining around the institutes of higher education in this state. Unfortunately there is not a magical fix-all solution for these recent economic woes, but the effects of the lack of money have been far-reaching, and the eventual solution must be given some serious thought.
As has been reported by various sources, there is expected to be a serious influx of new students into the Virginia public university system, and unfortunately, Richmond does not seem to be prepared to do anything about it. It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but it does appear that each of our Commonwealth's schools will be expected to take less money and more students in the near future. This is simply unacceptable.
Budget-related problems already abound at Mr. Jefferson's University, and a massive increase in students would only make it worse. We already have to deal with crowded classes that are hard to get into and a lack of TAs on a regular basis. The University can no longer provide such a basic service as printing to its students, and we cannot even afford to pay the little ISIS man to stay up past his 9:20 p.m. bedtime. At this point, academic quality at the University has not decreased due to budget- related woes, but if more students are pushed upon us, then things will begin to spiral downward. The University relies on its prestigious reputation to attract new students and faculty; we cannot allow it to be compromised.
In order to avert this coming educational crisis, both for the University and for the state, our legislators need to act on several counts. First, a proposal that would make the University, Virginia Tech and William & Mary "Commonwealth chartered Universities" should be seriously considered by the General Assembly. While I have written in opposition to privatization in the past, I believe that this proposal represents a very valid opportunity to create a system that both benefits Richmond and the universities while keeping the schools decidedly public.
The fact of the matter is that even according to its own standards, the state of Virginia underfunds these three major schools by a large margin. With no hope of more money in the near future, this proposal would allow the universities more control and free up more funds for the rest of the state. With improved efficiencies and more control over spending, our fine institution would be able to get past this budget crisis and maintain our position as leader of the pack.
There also has been recent talk of creating a new public university in the south-central region of the state. While this region would undoubtedly benefit from such an institution, this proposal must be examined carefully before it is touted as an answer to the expectations of increased enrollment. Unfortunately, legislators have a tendency to promote projects for their home area, and hopefully, this is not such a case. If this new university is to be formed, the General Assembly must make a real financial commitment. Our state has a reputation of fine public schools that must be upheld at all costs. If a new university is the solution to our overcrowding, then so be it; however, we must move in with full force.
Perhaps a better option would be to allow U.Va., Tech and W&M to form the charter schools as previously outlined and use the additional money to increase financial support for the second-tier schools in the state. This would allow the smaller, but up-and-coming schools to increase their funding and enrollment and thus, their prestige. The president of Old Dominion University has even gone on the record as suggesting a serious increase in ODU's enrollment in exchange for additional funding. Proposals such as these are very valid solutions.
The one thing that we cannot allow our state to do under any circumstance is nothing. Over the next few years, the General Assembly must make some serious decisions about the future of this fine university and this state. Inaction will sink higher education in the state, and that is something that we cannot allow.
(Daniel Bagley is a Cavalier Daily associate editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.)