Tax Increase Needed for Higher Education Support, Say Representatives

Posted: September 22, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

A tax increase is necessary to provide better funding for higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, four members of the General Assembly admitted Wednesday during a forum on the state’s role in funding higher education.

Two republicans, Del. Vincent Callahan, 34th District, and Del. James Dillard, 41st District, and two democrats, Sen. Charles Colgan, 29th District, and Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, 31st District, talked candidly about the issues surrounding higher education in Virginia. These include budget cuts, an increase in the number of graduating high school seniors, scholarships, and financial aid. The representatives stressed the importance of maintaining the high rankings and national recognition of Virginia’s universities. They discussed ways to support distance learning programs, research and scholarship, financial aid, and salary increases.

“Education is not an expense. Education is an investment in people and in society,” said Colgan. “It is the state’s responsibility to provide an educated society.” He stated that the role of the state in higher education is to provide support to maintain an affordable tuition, provide competitive salaries for faculty and staff, and attract quality students and citizens.

Sen. Whipple said that an important step for the General Assembly would be to implement a tuition policy that would be maintained no matter how the state’s budget wavers. “We have had a high level of excellence in our higher education institutions for many years now, but my concern is that we are losing ground,” Whipple said. “We need to set a policy and stick to it. Right now, the budget dictates our policy. We need a variety of sources of revenue to insulate economic changes.”

The forum also raised questions about the effects of budget cuts on other areas of the university, including nonacademic departments and institutions. “A university is like a miniature town,” Whipple said. “Every part of it is equally important and should be taken into consideration.”

The politicians fielded concerns about the ratio of in-state and out-of-state tuition rates, how to attract more graduate students when funding and financial support is low, and the importance of maintaining high quality faculty and staff. They agreed that funding for all of these issues needed to come from increases in proposed areas such as estate tax, car tax, personal taxes, and an Internet sales tax. All four members of the panel also said they would support a bill to appoint a nonvoting faculty member to the Board of Visitors.

In closing, President Alan Merten stressed the importance of university growth to accommodate the increase in college-bound students each year. He encouraged faculty, staff, and students to ask candidates for the General Assembly about their views on higher education and to take their answers into consideration when voting in November.

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