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Chartered-university initiative is likely to cause more harm than good
Date published: 1/4/2005
True, appropriations declined in absolute terms during the recessions of 1990–91 and 2001–02. But economic downturns hurt all institutions of higher education—public and private alike. To lambaste the state for reducing appropriations during a recession may feel good but displays a lack of sympathy for legislators who are constitutionally required to balance the budget.
These same legislators, meanwhile, reaffirmed their commitment to higher education in the 2004 legislative session. I will not mince words. To accuse Virginia of “molesting” its universities is to slander Democratic and Republican leaders who have created one of the nation’s most envied systems of public higher education and to provide ammunition to those who for ideological reasons would strip the state of its role of funding post-secondary education.
Although U.Va., which is the main driver of the charter movement and the main source of anti-state rhetoric, is no longer favored as it used to be, it continues to be reasonably well funded. A recent survey of 22 flagship state universities showed that U.Va. ranked 10th in the level of appropriations per in-state student. U.Va. is better funded on a per-student basis than other flagships such as Rutgers University, Indiana University, and the University of Texas.
The main problem in Virginia is not lack of commitment to higher education but rather the volatility of appropriations. From 1994 to 2002, “Virginia ranked fourth in largest increases in general-fund support to higher education nationally,” according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
By the same token, the reduction in appropriations in 2002–03 was greater in Virginia than in almost any other state.
Such volatility makes it difficult for university administrators to plan. A simple solution to this problem: Create a rainy-day fund for higher education.
According to the SCHEV, had state universities deposited 1 percent of tuition revenue in such a fund beginning in 1992, there would have been enough savings to cover the state budget cutbacks of 2002. In other words, prudent planning by the universities can smooth out the cyclical fluctuations in state support.
Funding problem? Of course.