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Virginia House passes bills easing college affordability

Allows students flat-rate degrees

The Virginia House of Delegates passed two bills Thursday to improve college affordability.

Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, sponsored legislation that enables students to earn a flat rate degree in high demand fields. The bill, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, creates a discounted bachelor’s degree program earned primarily through online courses, but also through community college and four-year university courses.

Cline’s bill proposal was prompted by the rising costs of college education and some constituents’ inability to afford higher education, he said.

“The current system is asking 18-year-olds to go into debt for the rest of their lives for over $100,000 and that’s just outrageous,” Cline said. “You shouldn’t have to go into debt for the rest of your life to afford a college degree.”

The act would require universities and the state government to work together to develop a cooperative bachelors’ degree program.

“[The bill] is an effort to bring down the cost of a college degree for Virginia families by embracing the use of technology and creating options in higher education through the use of that technology,” Cline said. “It would create a new, cooperative degree that would be developed by the universities themselves in cooperation with the Department of Education and the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia.”

The $16,000 bachelor’s degree will be made possible through the use of online classes, which are less expensive than classes held in a traditional classroom setting.

“Currently, students are priced the same by the university whether they are using an online course or sitting in a classroom, and that’s just not reality,” Cline said. “It’s much cheaper to teach a student online…if they priced these online students correctly, the degree can be presented at a much cheaper tuition rate.”

Matthew Moran, spokesperson for Del. William Howell, R-Falmouth, said enrollment in the flat rate degree programs would not necessarily be need-based. Instead, the universities would control enrollment to the program.

As part of the flat rate degree program, which includes nursing, teaching and public administration, universities would be permitted to count each participant as 1.5 students. Moran said this would entitle them to receive an increased amount of funding from the state.

“The incentive allows the university to count the students 1.5 times in terms of enrollment and graduation rates and all of the metrics that the state uses to provide their funding,” Moran said. “It would give them a boost on that side of the equation in exchange for providing these flat fee degrees.”

With the creation of a bachelor’s program through online classes, the opportunity for a $16,000 degree will become available to students outside of Virginia. Additionally, the intellectual property produced by the Virginia state college system will be nationally or even internationally accessible.

“Students from all over the country or possibly even the world could get a Virginia degree for $16,000.” Cline said. “It wouldn’t take students away from the classroom — it would actually increase the number of attendees of Virginia universities.”