Legislative proposals address costs of college

RICHMOND -- Since 2007, tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities has increased an average of 80 percent, with schools such as Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William and Mary more than doubling their tuition.

The rising cost of a college education prompted Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, to file a bill to cap increases in tuition and mandatory fees at state institutions. Reid, the first college graduate in his family which has lived in Virginia since the 1700s, said he is worried about young people and their future.

“I want to make sure that college remains affordable for other students and they have the same opportunities,” Reid said. “I know that having a college degree was instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty that my family had lived in for generations.”

Reid’s bill, HB 2476, would prohibit tuition increases by schools that have raised their tuition more than the state average over the preceding 10 years. At other schools, tuition could not increase more than the inflation rate. The House Education Committee approved Reid’s measure and sent it to the House Appropriations Committee for a look at the financial impact.

That proposal is among about 20 bills filed this legislative session to hold down the cost of college for students in general or for specific groups of students or to ensure that Virginians have more notice about proposed tuition increases.

Republican Sens. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Glen Sturtevant of Richmond both filed measures like Reid’s to limit tuition increases. And Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, proposed that public colleges and universities be required to set a four-year fixed tuition rate for incoming freshmen.

Those Senate bills all have been shelved, but still alive are proposals to require schools to give more notice and take public comment about tuition increases. That is the focus of legislation introduced by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta.

Miyares’ bill, which the House unanimously approved on Tuesday, would require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to establish policies for the public to comment during a board meeting on any proposed increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees.

Under Landes’ measure, which won a unanimous endorsement Wednesday from the House Education Committee, governing boards would have to explain the reasons for a proposed tuition increase and take comments at a public hearing at least 30 days before voting on whether to raise tuition.

Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, also has a bill stating that “the governing board of each public institution of higher education shall permit public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting.” His legislation has been approved by the Senate Education and Health Committee and is before the Senate Finance Committee.

Also moving forward are bills to offer reduced tuition to students from the Appalachian region who are enrolled in the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, is sponsoring this legislation in the House, and Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, has a companion bill in the Senate.

Kilgore’s measure, HB 1666, passed the House unanimously and has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. Carrico’s bill is awaiting action by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Miyares also proposed a bill to give tuition grants to students coming from the foster care system. A subcommittee unanimously endorsed the bill, and it is pending before the House Appropriations Committee.

A bill by Del. Paul Krizek, D- Fairfax, would offer in-state tuition for foreign service officers and their dependents. It has passed the House unanimously and been sent to the Senate.

In addition, several bills were filed to offer in-state tuition to college students who are in the process of applying for permanent residency in the United States. The House bills on this issue — by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, and by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington — were killed in a subcommittee. But a Senate bill by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, is still alive. It’s awaiting a decision by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

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