Public Comments for 01/27/2021 Education - Higher Education Subcommittee
HB2120 - Higher educational institutions, public; governing boards, meetings, input, and disclosures.
As a college student at Virginia Tech, a public research university, I've learned very quickly that college isn't cheap. I try my hardest to think of it as a valuable investment, which it is. College debt has increased more so towards the exponential side than linearly over the years throughout Virginia and the U.S. as a whole. My university is no exception and Virginia Tech, at times, especially now, continues to charge students for nearly everything without regard to their financial situations. It seems like the people making the decisions about how Virginia Tech handles student tuition are thousands of miles away. Other students close to me and I are constantly giving feedback about our situations during the pandemic and pre-pandemic. The HB2120 would be a great effort towards bringing students to the table when it comes to budget plans, issues, and future directions where they could have a more direct and timely impact on decisions. Even being open to the student body on how the budget is used throughout campus and beyond would foster a student body that supports the many, many financial endeavors that are undertaken.
Being a college student and graduating has become an increasingly unaffordable goal for many students in Virginia. I am currently a student at Virginia Tech, a public land grant university. I have found that the school does whatever it can to profit and expand their brand, while at the same time squeezing every cent out of their student body. My classmates are worrying about student debt and their futures in these unprecedented times. Virginia Tech is not making it any easier on us. Students have to pay top dollar just to park on campus and acquire reading material on top of our tuition that increases almost every year. Now with the COVID pandemic, students even have to pay monthly subscriptions for online classroom platforms. While students are struggling, administrators continue to rake in six figure salaries and work on business ventures like the Amazon campus. If tax dollars are paying for these institutions, then I believe it should be more democratically run. Students have no say in what their tuition goes towards or what direction the school is headed. HB2120 would require more transparency about school budgets, and would give students more opportunities to speak up on school budget issues. I think passing this bill is a step in the right direction.
The Virginia Press Association supports HB 2120.
Representing the student population of James Madison University, the Student Government Association (SGA) of James Madison University would like to officially support House Bill 2120 (patron, Delegate Mark Keam). In past years, individual members as well as the entire SGA have advocated to the General Assembly to immensely improve the practices of governing boards at higher education institutions. This has included but is not limited to demanding the passage of HB 1157 (2020 session, Del. Kathy Tran) in order to add a student voting member to our Board of Visitors. These calls have been in response to growing sentiment that the Board of Visitors is inaccessible, undemocratic, and out of touch from the everyday concerns of both students and faculty on our campus. Most recently, the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust conducted a report analyzing the policies and practices of higher education governing boards across the Commonwealth of Virginia. James Madison University received a total “F” rating, an “F” rating for Board receptiveness, an “F” rating for member accessibility, and a “C” rating for Board transparency. In addition, no public institution in Virginia received a total “A” rating and the average rating for all institutions in the study was just a “C-”. We recognize this legislation as a great start at initial reforms and tackling the obvious issues plaguing higher education institutions across the Commonwealth. Positive changes found in this legislation such as providing proper notices of meetings, displaying past meetings’ minutes, and including commenting periods would go a long way in bettering our Board of Visitors. For this reason, we support this legislation as a first step in achieving proper transparency and accountability. However members of the subcommittee, please recognize that this legislation could go further in truly reforming the Board of Visitors structure. As an SGA, we feel that productive changes would be to require more continuous and deeper student and faculty engagement by the Board, in the process of members being nominated as well as during their governing terms. There should also be harsher guidelines on who can sit on these governing boards to avoid the influence of deep-pocketed donors or political connections getting a member a seat over those with a resume filled with deep connections to the student body, knowledge of school functions, and leadership experience. Thank you for your time reading our sentiments regarding HB 2120. We expect that this subcommittee will respect student voice through supporting the passage of this legislation in full. We hope that members will consider additional amendments in order to take greater steps toward bettering the democratic structures at higher education institutions.
My husband, myself and other family members who live in Virginia (Vienna and Arlington) are very supportive of this bill. My oldest son (Aaron - Graduated from Marshall High School) is a Freshman Swimmer at William & Mary (W&M) and unfortunately had to go through mental and emotional distress when the school cut 7 sports programs including Men & Women's swimming for supposedly "budgetary" reasons. The Athletic Director (AD) at the time had not discussed these cuts with any of the teams or allowed the teams to prove they could help with fundraising and the school could keep these teams (which also had very good GPA's as well as winning records). Parents, Alumni and swimmers had asked for access to school documents/meetings, etc. to find out the real story but got the run-around and had to file Freedom of Information Acts but did not receive all that they wanted. Fortunately after a valiant effort by the W&M community including being one of the few sports teams to reach our FY21 fundraising goal (see W&M January 2021 Tribe Club Newsletter) - the cut teams were all reinstated. My son (and his roommate who is also from Virginia and on the team too) are thrilled. Passing this Bill will help tremendously for the future of sports at W&M.
HB2145 - Higher educational institutions, public; virtual instruction, tuition cap.
Virginia Military Institute appreciates the opportunity to provide comment on House Bill 2145. We offer the following observations as the subcommittee considers this bill: It is not realistic to arbitrarily set a maximum tuition amount for online instruction. The cost models for Virginia public colleges vary greatly based on demographics, geography, faculty/staff salaries, programs offered, etc. More importantly, institutions whose primary course delivery method is in-person and are only temporarily providing most if not all instruction in a remote environment continue to incur most of their normal “tuition related” operating costs associated with providing in-person instruction. For example, faculty and staff salaries are not reduced nor are support employees laid off during this temporary situation. Facilities necessary for the provision of in-person instruction must still be maintained and are still being used in many cases as part of the remote instruction. While there may be some limited cost savings – lowered utility costs, reduced custodial services – the total savings are not significant, especially considering that staff must be retained in anticipation of the eventual return to in-person instruction.
HB1980 - Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial Program; established, report.
Virginia Military Institute appreciates the opportunity to provide comment on House Bill 1980. We offer the following observations as the subcommittee considers this bill: 1. Honoring the enslaved persons who labored on our campuses and memorializing them appropriately is a worthy endeavor. To that end, VMI has begun a research project in an effort to identify those individuals. 2. One question raised in our review of the bill is the use of general funds. Is it appropriate to exclude the use of general funds as a source for an ongoing program of this nature at state institutions? We realize that the use of general funds may inspire and merit a larger policy discussion. 3. Each of the institutions named in this legislation is different and the language needs to provide flexibility to tailor a program to the specific needs of each institution. 4. We do feel it important for subcommittee members to understand that VMI commits a significant amount of institutional funds to scholarships. For the 2020-21 academic year, the Institute provided $13.1 million in institutional scholarship aid.