Making room for Va.’s own at top schools
richmond— Each spring, a number of high school students in Northern Virginia with near-perfect gradepoint averages, top-notch SAT scores and a long list of extracurricular activities receive disappointing news.
They’re shut out of Virginia’s premier schools — particularly the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary — losing slots to out-of-state students who pay triple the cost of those in-state and subsidize the state’s cash-strapped schools.
“I put all my eggs in that U-Va. basket,’’ said Lee Seidner of Fairfax County, who boasted a 3.99 GPA, 1300 on his SAT, eight Advanced Placement classes and a range of activities from National Honor Society to jazz band. “I felt I was qualified.”
Seidner tried everything to get off the waiting list at U-Va. Eventually, he ended up at Virginia Tech.
“We pay very high taxes here, and I
just didn’t think it was right,’’ said his mother, Sherrell Panoff of Chantilly.
For more than five years, state lawmakers have debated how to get more of Virginia’s best and brightest students into its state schools, but they haven’t agreed on a solution.
This year, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is proposing an additional $58 million for Virginia’s colleges and universities as he launches a goal of awarding 100,000 additional associate’s and bachelor’s degrees over the next 15 years.
McDonnell said the plan will help increase the overall number of students at state schools, making more in-state slots available.
“If you have 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years, the overwhelming share are going to go to Virginians,’’ he said. “And a huge percentage will go to Northern Virginians.”
Legislators of both parties have praised McDonnell’s plan, part of a package of higher-education proposals the governor has recommended during this annual legislative session, but some don’t consider it aggressive enough.
One Northern Virginia legislator has introduced a bill that would cap the number of out-ofstate students admitted to state public schools. Another wanted to require schools to charge more for out-of-state tuition in the hopes that fewer students from outside Virginia would need to be admitted in the future.
College officials generally favor McDonnell’s more-gradual approach to expansion, but only if the state offers enough money to pay for it.
Schools have faced years of budget cuts, and federal stimulus dollars — which helped filled in some of the gaps — are about to run out.
U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan said the state’s flagship university is embarking on its own programs to increase enrollment by more than 1,000 Virginians over the next five years but is opposed to specific quotas or caps.
“ The University of Virginia wouldn’t be the same place if we did that,’’ she said.
No ‘single solution’
Frustration over Virginia students getting shut out of the state’s top schools in recent years has led to fiery speeches on the floor of the House of Delegates and backroom negotiations.
To make his point, Del. Timo- thy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) often refers to U-Va. as the “University of New Jersey-Charlottesville” campus and William and Mary as the “University of Pennsylvania-Williamsburg” to reflect the growing number of students from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
State guidelines call for schools to reject out-of-state undergraduates if that population rises above 25 percent, but state officials have never enforced the policy.
About 81 percent of students attending public schools in Virginia are state residents, according to the State Council of Higher Education. The numbers are much lower at the four topranked schools: 67 percent at U-Va., 67 percent at William and Mary, 72 percent at James Madison University and 74 percent at Virginia Tech, according to the council.
Hugo and Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) are sponsoring a proposal to limit the number of outof-state students at Virginia’s schools to 25 percent. Their bill calls for public four-school colleges — except for the state’s historically black schools, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, and the Virginia Military Institute — to set aside at least 75 percent of freshman slots. Schools would have to increase out-of-state tuition and fees to make up for the decrease in students.
“Sometimes it’s a multi-year endeavor,’’ Hugo said. “I don’t think there’s a single solution.”
The state’s top schools oppose quotas, saying that they would lose millions of dollars a year by limiting out-of-state students. At U-Va. and William and Mary, tuition and fees for out-of-state students are about triple that of in-state students. At Virginia Tech and JMU, they are about double.
“When the state is cutting funding 50 percent over eight years, we need funding from outof-state students,’’ said Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech.
Worries about quotas
Matt Harris, a Virginia Commonwealth University senior and student government association member, said he worries that the quality of the student body will slip if schools are forced to expand their pool to meet an arbitrary number. “I don’t think that’s the solution,” he said.
Tom Kramer, executive director of Virginia 21, an organization that lobbies on behalf of 50,000 students across the state, said he worries that students would look elsewhere if the cost of tuition went up.
McDonnell says caps on admissions or tuition are not necessary.
He wants to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees from 42 to 55 percent by changing the way schools are funded — providing financial incentives to fulfill goals, such as graduating more students in four years, awarding more degrees in high-demand science and technology fields, and limiting the time required to attain a degree.
“Rather than take the existing pie, which is too small, and carve it up with a quota for Virginians, what we’re doing is expanding the pie . . . creating more opportunities for both in-state and out-ofstate students,’’ he said.
“I think we can get a lot more kids in without having a quota system.”
In the past few years, the Republican-led House of Delegates has debated bills to increase the number of in-state students. This year, McDonnell’s broad proposal has been introduced in the House and the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania), who introduced the bill in the Senate, often describes the changes as the most significant since the creation of the community college system four decades ago.
About 409,000 students attend the state’s 15 public four-year schools, 23 community colleges and one public junior college — making the system the 11th largest higher-education program in the nation.
Brian Whitson, William and Mary’s director of university relations, said the Williamsburg school has already grown about 10 percent since 2000 and that it needs to expand at its own pace. The school has 5,800 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students.
“Our size is a good part of who we are,’’ he said.
Lee Seidner, right, a junior at Virginia Tech, has lunch with friends Carolyn Korch, left, and Kelsey Lund in Blacksburg.
Seidner, a music major, was surprised that he couldn’t get accepted to U-Va., given his 3.99 GPA, 1300 on his SAT, eight Advanced Placement classes and a range of activities. “I put allmy eggs in that U-Va. basket,” Seidner said.