By G. Gilmer Minor III and Dennis H. Treacy
With the start of summer, we can look back on a school year that was full of good news for young Virginians looking to get an excellent education and land a great job right here in our commonwealth. Four big headlines together tell the story:
- “SmartAsset” rates Virginia colleges No. 1 in the nation:
- For the third straight year, our higher education system landed the top spot in this important national ranking, which stresses things like graduation rates, class size and return on investment.
- Amazon cites colleges in opting for Virginia HQ:
- Virginia won the intense national contest to attract Amazon’s major headquarters investment and tech jobs, and the company’s leaders cited talent development through our top-performing higher education system as the decision driver.
- General Assembly funds talent, affordability initiatives:
- Recognizing the crucial role colleges play in supplying talent for Virginia employers and job access for graduates, our legislature made significant performance-based investments in production of high-demand degrees and affordable access for Virginia students.
- Virginia colleges freeze tuition as state support rebounds:
- Responding to new state investments in college operations and student financial aid, the governing boards of all public colleges in the commonwealth voted this spring to keep next year’s tuition at this year’s level.
We on the Virginia Business Higher Education Council applaud the actions by our bipartisan elected officials and higher education leaders that made these very positive headlines possible.
In 2017, our business-led council launched the “Growth4VA” campaign to promote performance-based reinvestment in our higher education system. Our goals were to help grow the Virginia economy, improve affordable access to education and job opportunities for Virginians, and regain our state’s No. 1 ranking for business.
We documented the economic impact of the commonwealth’s colleges — more than $36 billion annually in economic output and 167,000 jobs from the public institutions alone — and the strong public confidence in their management. In contrast to voter attitudes in some states, more than 80% of Virginians are proud of their colleges and see them as “well run” and a “sound place to invest public dollars.” Independent analyses of performance and efficiency back up those widespread opinions.
We also called attention to some major challenges, especially on talent and affordability. Virginia remains among the bottom 15 states in funding for higher education and, unsurprisingly, ranks comparably high in terms of tuition levies on students. For several straight years, more talented young Virginians have left the state than have migrated here. Many Virginia businesses say they cannot find the skilled workers needed for their enterprises to grow.
We offered multiple strategies to tackle these issues. Among them: performance-based funding for high-demand degrees; institutional performance partnership agreements (IPPAs); a major state initiative on internships with Virginia employers; streamlined education-to-employment pathways; tuition moderation incentive funding; and increased state support for student financial aid at public colleges, tuition assistance grants (TAG) at nonprofit private colleges, and workforce credential grants at community colleges.
Since the “Growth4VA” campaign’s launch, more than 10,000 grassroots Virginians have joined business leaders, major business and civic organizations, and the state’s public and independent colleges in supporting our coalition and its pro-growth agenda. Thousands of Virginians have contacted their elected leaders to urge positive action on our performance-based investment strategies.
This active partnership between business, higher education and the Virginians we serve works well for our commonwealth. It is a key reason why Virginia has a leading higher education system that moves students efficiently from matriculation to graduation to employment and is a magnet for major new business investment in our state.
But none of this success would be possible without the forward-looking leadership provided by key members of the General Assembly and the governor and his team. Earlier this year they took legislative and budget action on each of the talent and affordability strategies outlined above.
In so doing, they made higher education more affordable and beneficial for thousands of young Virginians. They also laid a strong bipartisan foundation for our economic future and provided a performance-based blueprint for the next biennial budget and beyond.
Our “Growth4VA” coalition will be working hard to maintain this positive momentum in the upcoming budget process and in legislative sessions to come.
Working together, we can match Virginia’s top national ranking in higher education with a return to No. 1 status as the best state for business. But, more than earning the rankings, we can achieve the results: giving all Virginians affordable access to the postsecondary education and training that will provide a pathway to a great job and fulfilling life in a diverse and growing Virginia innovation economy.