Anita Kumar’s story in The Washington Post this morning frames the battle taking place in the General Assembly over this issue very well.

On one hand, northern Virginia Republicans such as Dave Albo, Clay Athey and Tim Hugo are pushing a measure that would require schools to set-aside at least 70% of freshmen slots and 80% of transfer openings for Virginia students.  They are frustrated that precious spots in Virginia’s most selective universities are going to out-of-state students while Virginians with stellar records are being denied admission.

The frustration is captured most vividly in this comment by Hugo.

We’re in a situation where we have the University of New Jersey-Charlottesville campus and the University of Pennsylvania-Williamsburg campus… I think that has to come to an end.

On the other side of the issue, the state’s most selective universities and their Boards of Visitors are working hard to kill the legislation, arguing that it would both change the esssential nature of extraordinarily successful institutions and impose a severe financial burden on the schools.

Heywood Fralin, UVA Rector, father of GOP Delegate William Fralin, and a business leader who has been an exemplar of selfless civic engagement in the Commonwealth had this to say to legislators supporting the cap.

I am deeply concerned that unless the state and the General Assembly are ready to make a substantial financial commitment to higher education in Virginia… that what you propose will place all of our higher education institutions in jeopardy.” 

Kumar reports that SCHEV officials oppose the cap and that Governor Kaine has expressed concerns about the proposal, though it is unclear what he would do if presented with one by the Assembly.

In the past, higher education has always been been able to swat off these efforts to impinge  upon the autonomy of the individual boards. And they just might be able to do it again this session, if the Senate budget conferees stand strong against the House plan or if Governor Kaine refuses to go along with the proposal.

But the downstream risk of not reaching a compromise on the issue during the session is much higher this year than ever before.

I mentioned yesterday that Bob McDonnell’s comments in a Marc Fisher piece in the Post indicated to me that he was going to make out-of-state college admissions a major issue in the upcoming campaign as part of a new Northern Virginia strategy for the GOP.

In his reply to my posting, Fisher generously provided more material from his interview with the former AG.

McDonnell told Fisher that the state universities’ admission policy for “gifted students” was a problem he wanted to fix. He said that UVA and other state universities “need to put a premium on kids from Virginia. These are state schools and we need to change the rules to reflect this.”

McDonnell’s statement adds a new wrinkle to the political calculus of the colleges and universities.

Do they want to “win” in the Assembly this week and hope that the Democratic nominee is willing to fight McDonnell tooth and nail on this issue until November? Or should they begin to negotiate a compromise that might take the matter off the campaign front burner? 

The more I think about this, the more I believe that the eventual Democratic candidate might well support a negotiated settlement. Does any Democrat really want McDonnell stumping around the state, asking at every stop why Democrats won’t put Virginians first and insist on giving priority to people from New Jersey?

McDonnell’s statements, in tandem with the growing frustration in NOVA,  have given a far higher prominence to the out-of-state college admissions issue than we have ever seen in Virginia. College and university officials will need to recognize this and shape their response accordingly.

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  1. I wonder if these good public servants would also favor limiting out-of-state athletic recruits? If their argument is valid, shouldn’t it also apply to football and basketball team rosters? Just asking. BKD

  2. So Mr. McDonnell might want to run a gubernatorial campaign on a knee-jerk sound bite that could fundamentally alter some of the most renowned institutions not only in the state, but in the country? (”No car tax” me once, shame on you…) And he wants to sell this jingoistic argument to the melting pot of the Commonwealth, NoVa? And he wants to pitch this petulant, nanny-state fit while representing the big bad party of self-reliance and limited government? Some kids didn’t get into some of the most competitive, successful schools in the nation, so there oughta be a law? Please have at it, my man.

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