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Creigh Deeds outlines plans to improve higher education

Democratic gubernatorial candidate says he hopes to establish tuition stabilization fund, create Virginia Forward Scholarship to assist students

	<p>Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, above, pictured before his run for governor in 2009.</p>

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, above, pictured before his run for governor in 2009.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds outlined his goals for the future of higher education in Virginia yesterday.

Deeds, who spoke to students and reporters at the Education School, said he believes that improving the commonwealth's education system will contribute to Virginia's long-term growth.

"What I want to do is create opportunity, prosperity, and hope in every part of Virginia and I understand that it begins with education," Deeds said.

Central to Deeds' education plan is his Virginia Forward Scholarship, which would grant a 50 percent college scholarship to in-state students who attend any Virginia public university or college and agree to fulfill two years of public service after graduation.

Also on Deeds' list for improving Virginia's education system is the formation of a state tuition stabilization fund, which would create backup money in the rainy day fund for higher education tuition.

"What I propose is that when we have surplus, for every $5 that we put in the rainy day fund, we put a dollar into what amounts to a tuition stabilization fund," Deeds said. "I hope through a period of time we can build that up to several hundred million of dollars in funding that universities and colleges can draw [from]."

Technology can also help expand educational opportunities, such as offering classes at large state universities to community college students through live video on the Internet, Deeds said.

"We have to think about how we can use technology to expand educational opportunities as efficiently as possible," he said. "The bottom line is we have to build the smartest workforce in the world."

Deeds' opponent, Republican Bob McDonnell, who outlined his plans for higher education at the University in August, said he hopes to lower textbook costs and also seeks to create greater accessibility to colleges and universities for Virginia's students.

"Bob is really looking for innovative programs and practices that will reduce the cost of tuition and textbooks for students and families," McDonnell spokesperson Crystal Cameron said, adding that McDonnell has proposed using Amazon's Kindle electronic book as one way to help bring down high textbook prices.

McDonnell is looking to expand accessibility by creating 100,000 degrees during the next 15 years, Cameron said.

"Bob feels that higher education needs to be one of our top priorities for investment," Cameron said. "This is an area in state government spending that produces the highest return on investment in terms of jobs and economic growth and ultimately down the road, tax revenues."

Isaac Wood, assistant communications director for the Center for Politics and a former Cavalier Daily opinion columnist, said although education is an important issue for Virginia residents, it is not as pressing as other issues, such as the commonwealth's economic future.

"I think right now most Virginians are not concentrated on higher education issues," Wood said. "The thing that they're stressing more than anything is just affordability. Where [the candidates] differ is to what degree the government should be involved in say giving loans or in increasing tuition assistance or financial aid, but it's just not the top issue right now."

Wood also added that, considering all aspects of the gubernatorial race, McDonnell might be seen as the favorite to win in November.

"Bob McDonnell has a definite lead, probably something in the high single digits," Wood said. "It's going to be an interesting next few weeks as both national parties weigh in, because this is one of only two gubernatorial elections this year, so both sides are paying a lot of attention and you'll see a lot of national organizations and national money flowing into Virginia since it's really the only game in town."

-Katherine Raichlen contributed to this article

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