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Bonus Budget Blog

08 Dec Posted by in Business | Comments Off on Bonus Budget Blog
Bonus Budget Blog

I think Virginia higher education faces an interesting dilemma over the next few months, in terms of policy and presentation. Might be good to get a word in early.

The Commission on Higher Education is coming out strongly for new investment in Virginia’s colleges and universities, in return for more enrollment, a commitment to efficient innovation in teaching, and more focus on STEM. There are some problems with this combination, depending of course on implementation, but on balance it’s very positive. The Governor, understandably pressed still in terms of economic conditions, nevertheless vows a down payment on all this, to the tune of $50 million in the next fiscal year. Again, very positive.

But here’s the problem, unless everyone involved is fairly candid. New money will be great, and George Mason is positioned to handle a bit of enrollment growth if it’s paid for. But: we have already grown a lot, without recompense. And: we’re slated for $13 million in state cuts this coming year, along with losing $19 million in federal funds. Even if we get a bit of new money, particularly if it’s attached to covering some new enrollment, we’ll still be deeper in the hole next year. This means we will still need to pursue some compensations in terms of tuition revenues.

My worry is that the trumpeting of new money will be accompanied by pressures or requirements to keep tuition way down, ignoring the fact that on balance we’re still being cut, and a lot. If all parties admit to the dilemma, great. We can compensate, we can commit to a modest new growth regime for the future, and we can move on in positive fashion, hoping for less ambiguous contexts in years to come. If the politicians and public are encouraged to ignore the complexity, whatever the PR disadvantage to the universities, we cannot proceed in good faith.

The situation is manageable, but it requires more than usual candor from all involved. Happy Holidays.