Posted on Friday, February 27, 2015

Adjournment Should Happen Tomorrow; Budget Already Approved

For the first time in recent memory, the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on time, with the budget adopted yesterday. Typically, the budget bill is not approved until the final day of the session, so this unprecedented early action is refreshing! 

The budget news for the VCCS is extremely positive. Faculty and staff are slated to receive an average 2% raise, some operating funding that was previously slated for reduction was restored, and VCCS capital priorities were approved. The General Assembly approved $1,075,000 in non-credit financial aid, which breaks new ground in Virginia. The General Assembly also recognized the value of VCCS’s transfer students and is not only funding an increase in potential grant awardees but has also provided financial incentives to steer them to certain four-year universities which will benefit from their hard work and high achievements.

Studies to examine low-cost degrees, college affordability, dual enrollment effectiveness

Approved budget language, and a number of bills, will examine higher education affordability as a result of the 2015 General Assembly session

HB 2320 (Cline) directs the Secretary of Education and the Director of SCHEV to consult with the VCCS and with each two-year and four-year public or private institution of higher education to develop a plan to establish and advertise a cooperative degree program in which any student in the Commonwealth can complete an online degree at a cost not to exceed $4,000 per year.  The report is due on October 1, 2016 and shall be made to the Chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee, the  House Committee on Education, the Senate Committee on Education and Health, and the Senate Finance Committee.  The original bill called for the establishment of Western Governors University in Virginia if the study was not completed within a year. 

Budget language will establish a Joint Subcommittee on the Future Competitiveness of Virginia Higher Education.  The Joint Subcommittee will be led by four members from the House Appropriations Committee and four members from the Senate Finance Committee.  It is charged to review ways to maintain and improve the quality of higher education while providing for access and affordability, examine the impact of financial, demographic, and competitive changes on the sustainability of individual institutions and of the entire public higher education system, and identify best practices to make the system more efficient to include shared services.  Other responsibilities include the evaluation of distance learning and appropriate business models, review of need-based financial aid programs, and review of the recommendations of the JLARC study of the cost efficiency of higher education institutions.  The effectiveness and value of transfer students will be examined, as well as the effectiveness of dual enrollment in reducing the costs of higher education.  The Joint Subcommittee will develop a two-year work plan and provide an interim report to their respective committees by November 1, 2016 and a final report by November 1, 2017. House legislation dealing with Level II authority (HB 1895) and Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program Grants (HB 1896) are also being sent to the Joint Subcommittee for study. 

Additional budget language sets in motion some of the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s study of the costs of higher education in four-year public institutions in Virginia.  To be included are parameters on the calculation and reporting of athletic fees and student fees. 

Since some bills are still being resolved today and tomorrow via conference committee, there will be a subsequent communication which will reflect the final disposition of the remaining bills. 

Thanks to all of you who played a part in making the 2015 General Assembly session successful for the VCCS!'

Ellen Davenport

Ellen Davenport is assistant vice chancellor for governmental relations for the VCCS. She works with the Chancellor and Virginia's 23 community college presidents to advance the financial and policy priorities of the VCCS with the Virginia General Assembly and Congress.

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