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Lawmakers Weigh College Tuition Freeze, Northam’s G3 Proposal

VCU campus
Virginia Commonwealth University. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Virginia lawmakers are weighing some big investments in state colleges and universities this year. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed budget does not include funding for the tuition freeze that lawmakers approved last year. Lawmakers gave colleges the option of accepting extra funding in exchange for holding tuition flat. 

“We really need to continue to focus on reigning in the cost in the long-term,” said Stacie Gordon with Partners for College Affordability. 

Gordon was happy to see about $112 million in the House budget this year. The Senate budget, however, instead allocates $25 million more for Northam’s G3 community college initiative (although still about $50 million short of Northam’s proposed $145 million investment) as well as $15 million in additional funding for need-based student financial aid. The Senate also includes over $50 million for faculty salary raises. Gordon says while she supports proposals for increased financial aid, the issues of cost and student need aren’t mutually exclusive. 

“The higher the cost, the more financial aid we’re going to need,” Gordon said. 

Increased state investments in higher education have historically been correlated with decreases in tuition costs, and vice versa. 

“The state often has increased its financial aid to make up for the fact that we do have higher tuition and fees,” Wendy Kang,  with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, told VPM in an interview last fall. 

 Still, Gordon would like to see Virginia go a step further, and put a tiered cap on tuition that rewards more “fiscally responsible tuitions.” Data from the state council shows that over the last decade tuition has more than doubled at most four-year universities. 

Gordon points to Missouri’s tiered tuition cap model as an example for Virginia to follow. The state uses a two-tier tuition cap system at the consumer price index for institutions operating above the state’s tuition average, and CPI times a higher multiplier for those operating below the average. 

Sen. Jennifer Kiggins (R - Virginia Beach) introduced legislation to cap tuition this year, but it was continued to the 2021 session. Historically, lawmakers and colleges have not supported these efforts citing tuition increases as a way to account for rising costs.

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.