I read recently that applications to the University of Virginia are up 18% over this time last year. It’s no surprise. In an economic downturn, Virginia’s flagship public universities are looking mighty attractive to students and parents who might have considered going private when times were flush.
I have spoken with a number of Assembly members from Northern Virginia in the past few years who have told me that, with the exception of complaints about traffic, the most common question they hear from constituents is “why can’t my son or daughter get into UVA, Tech, JMU, William and Mary, etc?”
Parents want to know why Virginia does not cap out-of-state enrollment like North Carolina and a host of other states do.
An 18% surge in applications will ensure that their questions get more insistent when admissions decisions are made next April.
Delegate Clay Athey wants to do something about it. He is proposing legislation that would require all universities in Virginia to have at least 70% of their students in-state if they are to receive any state funds at all. And it is clear that the Univerity of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary are directly in his sights.
“Virginia’s Universities should be educating Virginia’s children… When you are getting to a point that more than half of them (UVA students) are not Virginia residents, you’ve got a problem.”
Athey’s proposal will meet stiff resistance from the universities and their supporters. They have powerful arguments to make. Overall, Virginia has a superb system of higher education. Out-of-state students bring intellectual capital to the Commonwealth that often stays here upon graduation. In addition, the selectivity of Virginia’s public universities is a central reason why our flagships are rated so highly and considered “Public Ivies.” Supporters might even whisper that obtaining an extra $10,000 in tuition per out of state student makes a significant contribution to the universities’ bottom line.
But none of these arguments will convince a parent who cannot understand why their daughter who is a straight A student with good extracurriculars didn’t get into a Virginia university of her choosing.
We’ve been through this argument before and the universities’ position has always carried the day. I presume that Clay Athey’s bill will have an uphill climb this year as well.
But I also think that legislators are going to hear the voices of parents get louder and louder.
And someday a candidate might just adopt this issue as a populist plank in a run for statewide office.