Proposed bill: In-state students take priority at Va. universities

Move to take more in-state students would cost at least one flagship university money

There's a proposed bill in the Va. House of Delegates that could mandate Virginia's public universities to take in more in-state students than they already are.

Del. David Albo, R-Springfield, said he plans to introduce the bill again this session because people in his district have children who cannot get into the state's flagship schools, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia.

Both universities accept about two-thirds of their students from Virginia; the other third are from other states and abroad.

"My constituents want to go, and they can't get in," Albo said. He said the issue hits home when a kid from his district in the southernmost tip of Fairfax County could not get into William and Mary, even though he had a 4.2 GPA and an SAT score that ranked above the 90th percentile.

HB 1410 would require 75 percent of state universities' undergraduate student bodies to be made of students from Virginia.

The state's public historically black colleges and universities — Norfolk State and Virginia State — would be exempted, as would Virginia Military Institute.

Historical precedent

Bills similar to this one have failed in past years as university boards lobbied to keep control over their institutions. The state has never mandated class compositions, leaving those decisions up to the universities.

"It's really more of a Jeffersonian governmental approach. They (schools) make a lot of their own laws," said Gregory Weatherford, associate for communications and outreach at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. "They get a lot of autonomy to operate on their own."

Requiring some schools accept more students from inside the state could be a tough ask for some of them.

"A hard and fast number puts you in a financial bind, especially for small schools," said Senator-elect Monty Mason, a William and Mary alumnus who was elected Nov. 8. Each percentage point past 65 would cost the school around $1 million dollars, he estimated.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, said any funding gap universities see by accepting a larger proportion of in-state students could be offset by raising the tuition of the students coming from out of state.

"We've seen over the years that you can raise tuition and it doesn't hurt quality, and it doesn't hurt your number of applications," he said.

Hugo doesn't buy the argument that William and Mary and the University of Virginia are motivated primarily by funding.

"They see their peer group as Harvard and Yale," he said. "They don't want all these Virginia students, but they need to remember that they are state schools."

Albo said the flagships have always defended their numbers of out-of-state students by pointing to the decline in the amount of state funding they receive.

He acknowledged that the state probably does not fund its public universities as robustly as it should, but he noted Virginia's elite institutions were not using some of their money the way they claimed to be.

William and Mary used some of its tuition revenue as financial aid last year, a practice that is frowned upon by some Virginia families whose kids can't get admitted to the school, Albo said.

"Imagine you save $500 a month for college," he said. "With this, you're really saving $450 a month for your child and $50 for some other kid."

HB 1410 would require Virginia public universities to not use any tuition revenue from Virginia students as financial aid for any out-of-state or abroad students. It also would require schools use no more than 5 percent of out-of-state tuition revenue as financial aid for out-of-state students.

Sam Jones, senior vice president for finance & administration at William and Mary, said at a Sept. 23 meeting of the college's Committee on Financial Affairs that some high ranking people at the state level were miffed with the amount of tuition money the college used as financial aid.

"There were some people in Richmond who were not too happy about that," he said, speaking of General Assembly members such as Albo and Hugo.

William and Mary used 15.5 percent of its tuition revenue as financial aid, and Jones said the school would be comfortable going up to 20 percent. Twenty five percent, he said, would be the limit.

Albo said the University of Virginia did the same with $30 million of its tuition revenue last year, equivalent to slots for around 2,000 in-state students.

"I know why they want them, too," Albo said, speaking of students coming from outside Virginia. "They are probably really hot prospects, and it looks good for them to go there. They make a lot more money that way."

Dynamics of raising tuition

Gregory Weatherford said 10 years ago, the General Assembly told state universities that if they raised tuition, school administrators needed to use part of that increase in revenue as financial aid.

"Over the last few years, an increasing number of universities are shifting costs to people who pay more," Weatherford said. "The more you raise that sticker price, the more you decrease the pool of people who can afford your school."

William and Mary promises to meet the financial need of in-state students. As wealthier families — from in or out of state — pay their tuition, some of that money helps students who need financial help.

"They take a lot of that money for people who have need," Weatherford said. "By doing that, you're decreasing the number of people who can afford your school."

If you're wealthy and can pay tuition, or qualify for need-based aid from the school, places like William and Mary or the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech can work out.

But for families in the middle class, paying tuition with less financial help from the university is the challenge.

"If you're wealthy, you can afford anything," Weatherford said. "For those people in the middle who aren't quite there, it's hard."

For families who reside in the state, seeing their child at a school they aren't happy with is an unenviable situation, as is leaving the state to find a premier university.

"They are forced across state lines, where it costs much more," Tim Hugo said. "We're trying to help more kids from places like Williamsburg and southwestern Virginia get into William and Mary."

"(I've) paid taxes since I started working, so about 30 years," he said. "When my child wants to go to college, I'd like for it to be an in-state school because I paid for it."

Some schools are already on track to meet what would be the new requirements, should this bill pass.

James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Albo said, is an example. Three-fourths of their student body comes from Virginia.

"Turns out JMU is pretty close," he said. "To us, they are the big heroes."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Virginia and non-VA students

Here's a list the public universities in Virginia and the percentages of in-state and out-of-state students attending the school, respectively.

Christopher Newport: 5,051 undergrad students, 90 in-state /10 out of state

George Mason: 23,066, 85/15

James Madison: 19,396, 72/28

Longwood: 4613, 93.5/6.5

Old Dominion: 24,672, 88/12

Radford: 8,880, 92/8

Virginia Commonwealth: 23,741, 89/11

Univ. of Mary Washingon: 4,320, 86/14

Univ. of Virginia: 16,736, 66/34

Willliam and Mary: 6,301, 62/38

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, university staff

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