Student Council lobbies legislature in Richmond

Committee travels to state capital, introduces proposals to strengthen University

Student Council’s Legislative Affairs committee traveled to Richmond Monday morning to meet with Virginia legislators about issues important to the University.

The committee seeks to represent “the interests of University students in the Virginia state government, and [encourage] student participation in the political process,” according to Council’s website. While the University has a paid lobbying staff stationed in Richmond, the student body has no direct voice.

“Sometimes the student body’s interest could diverge from the administration or there may be difference in priorities, and our visit hopes to bridge that gap,” said committee co-chair George Wang, a fourth-year College student and Cavalier Daily opinion editor.

Committee members brought three main issues to the table: the Board of Visitors and the June leadership crisis, rising tuition rates and the ratio between in-state and out-of-state students.

In addition, the committee advocated for three pieces of legislation, including HB 1881, which would require the Board to add a voting student member and a voting member of the Faculty Senate.

The second, HB 1952, would mandate the Board increase its transparency, and the third, HB 1978, would require the Board to have at least one member with experience in higher education administration or as a professor in the study of higher education.

In recent years the University has seen drastic cuts in aid from the commonwealth. Compared to Virginia’s other top public universities, the University receives a lower percentage of its operating budget from state funds — about 10.2 percent. By comparison, Virginia Tech receives about 19 percent of its operating budget from the state and James Madison University receives just under 27 percent.

Committee members said they think the University should receive an increased percentage of state funds.

Committee co-chair Megan Mohr, a second-year College student, said the University “serves more students than William and Mary and James Madison, but the proportion of academic funding at James Madison and Virginia Tech is significantly higher.”

Wang said there was no reason the University should receive a lower percentage of funding than other public state schools.

“We are not expecting the state to provide a significantly higher proportion [compared to other schools], but an increase of 1-2 percent in state support would go a long way to helping us,” he said.

To combat the shortage of state funding, the committee lobbied to alter in-state and out-of-state student representation.

Out-of-state students are an important source of revenue for the University, paying $36,788 in annual tuition compared to the in-state rate of $11,794..

During a 25-year period the University has almost doubled in-state undergraduate enrollment — from 6,692 in fall 1986 to 10,132 in fall 2011. During the same period, the University increased out-of-state undergraduate enrollment by a mere 172 students — from 4,287 to 4,459, according to data from the University’s Office of Institutional Assessment & Studies.

Instead of increasing tuition for all students, the committee has proposed a slightly different alternative.

“We asked that more out-of-state students be admitted but not to cut out [in-state students],” said fourth-year College student Alex Reber, Council’s chair of the representative body. “[This] allows for more funding to the University because out-of-state [students] pay more. It adds diversity and increases the quality of education.”

The committee makes its annual trip to Richmond to promote the voice of the student body and to promote civic engagement among committee members, Wang said. The committee did not make a recommendation about the confirmation of Rector Helen Dragas’ reappointment while speaking to legislators. Council Tuesday plans to present a resolution that encourages the General Assembly to deny Dragas’ reappointment.

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