By Larry Stimpert and Robert Lindgren
On Saturday, Nov. 16, Hampden-Sydney College and Randolph-Macon College will kick off the 124th meeting of our football teams in Ashland. The game is commonly known as “the oldest football rivalry in the South.” And what a rivalry it is. More than 10,000 fans will likely converge when the two teams meet on R-MC’s Day Field, as the intensity of the athletic competition between Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon is second-to-none among small colleges in America.
We’re the presidents of these longtime football foes. Yet, our two colleges are in virtual lockstep about two things that are vitally important to Virginia students.
First, we share a deep commitment to provide our students with a world-class education in the 21st century, thus striving to do our part to be effective partners in the commonwealth of Virginia’s strategic goal to educate, and educate well, more of its citizens.
And second, we continue to prioritize expansion of the critical support that Virginia private college students and families receive through the commonwealth’s Tuition Assistance Grant, commonly known as TAG.
Simply put, TAG has proved to be one of the most powerful, cost-effective and meaningful ways for the state to invest in higher education for the direct benefit of Virginia students for almost 50 years.
You might know that TAG assists Virginia residents who attend accredited private nonprofit colleges and universities in the commonwealth by providing annual tuition grants of up to $3,400. For many families whose sons and daughters wish to attend a private college or university, the grant can provide the funding that enables them to do so.
What might surprise you is just how many students the private colleges educate — 33% of all undergraduates who attend four-year institutions, as well as more than half of all graduate students. While we serve such a sizable portion of Virginia’s college students, the TAG program is a mere 4% of the commonwealth’s nearly $2 billion higher education budget.
Virginia’s private colleges also are the access institutions in the commonwealth’s higher education system, serving significantly higher proportions of lower-income (Pell Grant-eligible) and underrepresented students, as defined by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, than the state’s public four-year institutions.
Nearly 70% of students attending Virginia’s private institutions come from underrepresented populations, whereas the comparable figure at the public four-year institutions is 54%. And compare students from lower-income households: 45% of private college students are Pell-eligible but just 34% of community college students and 27% of four-year public college students are Pell recipients.
During the upcoming legislative session, the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia — of which our institutions are members — is requesting an increase in the TAG award from $3,400 to $4,000. We welcome public support for our request.
A $600 increase in the grants will enable even more Virginia families to choose the private college or university that would best meet their children’s educational goals. For context, Virginia students who attend four-year public institutions are subsidized by the commonwealth in the amount of $7,657 per student.
Increasing the grants by $600 would do even more good for even more students. And, the impact of that increase on Virginia’s higher education budget would be less than one percentage point — a minor budget impact that will make a significant difference.
At a time when every dollar of the commonwealth’s budget is being stretched to be as efficiently and effectively allocated as possible, there might not be a better investment that Virginia can make in its higher education system — for thousands of students and their families, and for all Virginians who will benefit from our students’ contribution to our economy as well-educated citizens upon graduation.