Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

mmwhipplemugGrow by Degrees – a new plan for Virginia.

Virginians can be justifiably proud of our system of higher education.  Our colleges and universities are often recognized on lists of best places to attend college in the country.  Our community college system is one of the largest in the United States and offers excellent educational and training programs close to students’ homes.

mmwhipplemugGrow by Degrees – a new plan for Virginia.

Virginians can be justifiably proud of our system of higher education.  Our colleges and universities are often recognized on lists of best places to attend college in the country.  Our community college system is one of the largest in the United States and offers excellent educational and training programs close to students’ homes.

However, the Measuring Up 2008 report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education graded Virginia “F” for affordability.  The report said that poor and working-class families must devote 31% of their income to pay the costs of a two-year public college.  That seems very high to me but if that’s accurate, then far too many of our young people don’t have access to college.

The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) has a strategic plan that features as a key goal the improvement of the affordability of a college education.  The Council points out that while our state needs more college graduates, “students cannot achieve what they cannot afford”.

The United States does not compare favorably to other developed countries in college completion, according to SCHEV. In fact, the U.S. has the worst degree-completion rate among developed nations: while about 55% of young people in other develop countries have earned at least an associate’s degree, the U.S. attainment percentage is only 42%.

In order to compete in the new economy we need more college graduates. The Virginia Business Higher Education Council says that we currently do not produce enough graduates to fill good jobs and have to import people from out of state, jobs that could be filled by Virginians.

To address the issue, the VBHEC has launched the initiative “Grow by Degrees” that calls for an additional 70,000 associate, bachelors, graduate and professional degrees to be awarded over the next ten years.

They advocate “a 10-year program of investment designed to award a cumulative 70,000 additional degrees by 2020, maintaining the high quality of Virginia’s higher education system while moving the number of working age Virginians holding college degrees up to 50 percent – a key milestone for best-educated states.”

A poll commissioned by the VBHEC shows strong support in Virginia for investment in higher education and that people understand the connection between education and economic prosperity. We know that Virginians who earn college, university, or community college degrees enjoy substantially greater opportunities for good jobs, rewarding careers, high incomes, and positive contributions to the community.

The strategic plan of the State Council on Higher Education and the new Grow by Degrees coalition agree that affordability is key to providing access to college to more Virginians.  It’s an important goal and, in my view, a commitment we need to make and keep.

Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be emailed at district31@sov.state.va.us

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