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If McAuliffe Is Truly Concerned About Student Loans? Freeze In-State Tuition…

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For my generation, the golden age was Governor Jim Gilmore.

The reason?  Gilmore had the guts and the vision to know that education was something people would pay for without ceiling or limit (much like health care).  It was a conspiracy in concert — loan sharks got paid, professors got paid, administrators certainly got paid, employees got paid.

Students got the shaft.

Of course, all that ended when Democrats got control of the Governor’s Mansion, and things haven’t been the same since, with the notable exception that national Democratic leadership has made a canard about student debt while proposing very little to fix the problem.

So today’s news that the University of Virginia intends to raise in-state tuition rates for incoming freshmen by 11% [2] — and a pearl-clutching 40% tuition increase for students at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy [3] — makes those who remember Gilmore’s time as governor as a golden age wistful for the days when conservatives actually put their principles into practice:

The price hike will take place in two stages. There will be a $1,000 special increase for freshmen in the coming school year, on top of the $470 increase in tuition and fees for all in-state undergraduates. That means U-Va.’s incoming class will pay 11 percent more than those who started in fall 2014.

Then there will be another $1,000 increase phased in for freshmen in 2016, also on top of normal tuition growth. Since 2012, that growth has hovered at around 4 percent. By fall 2016, in-state tuition and fees at U-Va. for entering freshmen could be nearly $16,000.

Griffin, who spearheaded the plan, said the two-step tuition increase will help U-Va. raise money for need-based grants. That will reduce by $10,000 the amount some students would have to borrow over four years.

So there’s clearly some gamesmanship going on here, as federal grants are available and UVA is looking to shift costs accordingly.

Still… for those who can “afford” the increased tuition, the question remains as to whether or not UVA undergraduate and grad students are getting a better quality education than what a UVA student might have received 20 years ago?  At almost twice the cost?

I’m sure folks will trot out examples as to how UVA gets its bang for its buck — and that is all true.  But when quality increases incrementally and costs increase exponentially, one really has to stop and wonder whether or not the ROI on a college education is really worth it?  If the examples of closing universities around the Commonwealth are any indication, the old model simply isn’t in a condition to sustain the additional load of administrators and bureaucrats, which is why for-profit and non-profit schools are quickly on the rise.

Of course, this brings back an old question — is it time for a little Schumpeterian “creative destruction” at our four-year institutions?  Perhaps so… but we tried that [4].

Which brings us back to this character:

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Governor McAuliffe has been zero-for-twenty on any major initiatives in Virginia.  Nothing on student loans, jobs, Medicaid, transportation, education, small business development, reducing the burden on localities, getting rid of the Governor’s Slush Fund Opportunity Fund, pushing back on the EPA… we got nothing.

But if the theme of using conservative means to achieve liberal ends means anything, McAuliffe would be wise to imitate the example of his predecessor: Governor Jim Gilmore.

Let’s be honest.  Post-secondary education is getting more and more unaffordable every year, mostly because there is no need or reason to fix costs.  That gets shifted down to the middle class student, who then shackles themselves for the most productive years of their life to jobs they don’t like and places they will not grow — all of which combines for a frothy mix of economic stagnation vs. economic mobility.

While government cannot erase that cost (nor should it), there are simply things that Virginia can do to make in-state schools more competitive and affordable for working class Virginians.  First and foremost?  Freeze in-state tuition rates and tell Virginia’s state-supported schools to work within their means just like working families are forced to do.

After all, it’s not as if mom and dad can vote themselves an 11% salary increase.  In a time where seemingly everything is going up 3-5% every year with the mantra “it only costs a cup of coffee — you can afford it!” it would seem that 7-8 extra cups a month for the last 5 years makes for a very caffeinated and worn out taxpayer.

McAuliffe should consider laying down a marker for the middle class here.  It makes sense for students, taxpayers, and puts a fiscal clamp on Virginia’s state-supported schools to work within their means rather than find solutions in the pocketbooks of taxpaying families.  Otherwise, what precisely is the point of publicly supported education when only the well-to-do or extremely poor are the ones who have access — at taxpayer expense?