Last week, I reported on an article that Marc Fisher of The Washington Post had written about Bob McDonnell’s position on limiting out-of-state undergraduates at Virginia’s most selective institutions.

After the initial post, Fisher generously sent me follow up material with some precise quotes that came from his interview with McDonnell.  Fisher noted that McDonnell had told him that our universities “need to put a premium on kids from Virginia. These are state schools and we need to change the rules to reflect this.”

Today, the McDonnell camp gave me a letter that it sent to the higher ed community about the matter on February 27th. In their communication to me, the McDonnell folks noted that the Fisher column “ascribed a specific policy position to Bob on the matter of enrollment policy at our colleges and universities. That column was the result of a long-ranging conversation that took place between the two of them over three months ago.”

The February 27th letter is intended to represent McDonnell’s current thinking about the issue, one that had become a hot button item in the Assembly.

I have included the entire text of the letter below.  But here are what I consider three  key points.

First, McDonnell uses the letter as an opportunity to emphasize his recognition that a strong higher ed system is absolutely crucial to the state and to its economic prospects in an uncertain economy.

Second, McDonnell places the issue of access to Virgvinia’s most selective universities distances in the context of decreased investment in higher ed and distances himself from the position that simply changing the enrollment rules is, alone, an adequate answer. As he puts it:

As Governor, I will work to help reverse this trend and expand opportunity for more deserving Virginia students to attend our state colleges, universities and community colleges at reasonable cost.  While the impulse to help Virginians by limiting out-of-state student admissions is understandable, the long-term solution lies in increasing capacity at our higher education institutions, not in rationing those opportunities. 

Third, McDonnell notes that as soon as he becomes Governor, he will convene an expert panel to advise him on the related issues of cost, accountability, and access and that he intends to seek “broad-based input” so we can “move forward in a responsible and sustainable, bipartisan and business-like manner to advance Virginia’s excellent higher education system.” 

Here is the full text of the McDonnell letter.

February 27, 2009

Dear Member of the Higher Education Community:

 I have had the opportunity to discuss with a number of college presidents and other educational and community leaders in Virginia the critical importance of the next Governor’s policies related to higher education.  I have appreciated having the benefit of your ongoing insight.

 Recently there have been discussions in Richmond on placing limits on the number of out-of-state students admitted to Virginia’s colleges and universities as a way to expand access for Virginia residents.

 I know from traveling across the state that there is broad concern about the ability to get top young people into our excellent colleges and universities. I am determined to address this matter squarely and find the right answers as Governor. 

 How to accomplish the goal of expanding educational opportunities for Virginia students is an important matter our Commonwealth’s next leaders must address. 

 We all know that post-secondary education is essential for good jobs for Virginians and for the economic recovery, growth and prosperity of our state. 

 Every qualified Virginia student should have an opportunity to attend one of Virginia’s excellent institutions of higher education at an affordable price.  Quality education is the key to opportunity and high-paying jobs in our increasingly knowledge-driven, high-tech economy.  Investing in our universities and community colleges is a vital step to get our state’s economy growing strongly again.  Unfortunately, during the past seven years we have seen a decline in the share of college costs paid by the Commonwealth, and the result has been a steep increase in the tuition burden borne by Virginia students and their families.  This occurred during a period when state spending on other programs was rising sharply.

 As Governor, I will work to help reverse this trend and expand opportunity for more deserving Virginia students to attend our state colleges, universities and community colleges at reasonable cost.  While the impulse to help Virginians by limiting out-of-state student admissions is understandable, the long-term solution lies in increasing capacity at our higher education institutions, not in rationing those opportunities. 

 The long-term solution lies in a sensible and sustainable strategy of investment, with accountability, in the advanced education and training of our young people for the careers of the future.

 Our plan for the future must focus effectively on Virginia’s identified job needs and productive career paths, because economic growth and opportunity are our goals.  Efforts to expand access to higher levels of education must be coupled with an emphasis on the particular skill sets and capabilities that will directly benefit the Virginia economy.  We need to motivate and prepare more Virginians to be scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and experts in computer science and technology-related fields.  We need to encourage and train young people so they will help meet critical shortages in the healthcare and teaching professions, among others.  And we need to promote public-private partnerships that bring job-creating businesses and our higher education institutions together for vital progress in research, technology, workforce training, and the recruitment of new enterprises and new jobs to Virginia.

 Virginia’s economic future will be bright if we understand that a good education is the key to well-paying jobs, and that prudent investments in the training-and, to a significant extent, the re-training-of our Virginia workforce will produce a strong return on investment that will strengthen our economy.  This understanding will guide my higher education policies as Governor.

 As I develop detailed proposals for economic development and higher education, I will continue to evaluate and refine policy ideas to expand access to higher education opportunities for Virginia students at prices they can afford.  I will continue to monitor the recommendations of the Council on Virginia’s Future for ideas on productivity and performance measurement of our education system.   Since input from the Presidents and Board leaders is sought too infrequently on these matters, I invite your comments and suggestions. I am also committed to promptly establishing an expert panel to advise me on these matters of cost, accountability and access as soon as I become Governor.  I intend to seek broad-based input-from tuition-paying parents and students, from taxpayers, from business and community leaders, from public servants in both political parties, and from your ranks-so that we can move forward in a responsible and sustainable, bipartisan and business-like manner to advance Virginia’s excellent higher education system.

 Sincerely,

Bob McDonnell

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