Candidates for Governor Support Higher Ed
By Jessica Doswell
Capital News Service
Virginia's gubernatorial candidates – Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell – are touting different options to support higher education. Politically, they have a common goal: to give more young people a chance at success by making higher education more affordable.
“I’m afraid that we are pricing too many people out,” said Deeds, a state senator from western Virginia.
McDonnell, the state’s former attorney general, said, “All young people should have every chance to pursue the American dream.”
Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at George Mason University, said the candidates’ commitments to higher education are important – because they may be tested as Virginia addresses future budget shortfalls.
“One of the realities of Virginia politics is that when times get tough, the universities get squeezed,” Farnsworth said.
With the Nov. 3 election only weeks away, both candidates have worked to define the differences between their campaigns. Here is a look at the gubernatorial candidates’ positions on higher education issues.
According to Deeds’ Web site, he wants to make higher education more affordable and accessible by creating $15,000 a year in guaranteed loans for four-year students.
Deeds wants to provide scholarships, which would pay up to 50 percent of college tuition, if a student achieves a B average in high school and will commit to perform two years of public service in Virginia after college graduation.
The Democratic nominee wants to establish a tuition stabilization fund, which Virginia colleges and universities can draw from to balance their budgets without drastic increases in tuition.
Deeds’ $40 million in funding for higher education would come from the state’s general fund. He advocates zero-based budgeting, in which state agencies must justify every dollar – and would not automatically get the funding they had the previous year.
“We are going to keep track of every cent every year for every agency,” Deeds said. “Bottom line is – there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Deeds said higher education has been the easy target for state budget cuts because colleges and universities can raise tuition and make somebody else pay – the students or the parents.
“I want to reinvest in higher education,” Deeds said.
According to his Web site, McDonnell wants Virginia to award 100,000 additional associate’s and bachelor’s degrees over the next 15 years.
Those additional degrees “will give young people the opportunity to reach their dreams,” McDonnell said at a recent gathering of supporters in Newport News. “Only about 42 percent of our young people are college-educated – either associate’s or four-year degree. That will get it up to 55 percent and will help expand dramatically the variety for our young people.”
McDonnell also wants to provide more support for education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other high-income, high-demand sectors of the job market. He advocates having public-private partnerships work with community colleges to provide workforce training throughout Virginia.
McDonnell also wants to promote electronic textbooks as an alternative to traditional text books. By using e-books instead of hard copies, McDonnell estimates, a student could save about $1,500 over four years.
“I will promise you I will work as hard as I can” toward such goals, McDonnell said.
Can the winner deliver?
It’s an open question whether either candidate can deliver on his promises about higher education.
“Politicians may talk about what they wish to do, but what they actually can do is often less ambitious than what is in the platform,” said Farnsworth, a widely quoted commentator on state politics.
“I don’t know that either candidate has a clear funding mechanism for higher education.” But Farnsworth noted, “Nobody wants to talk about raising taxes in a recession.”
It’s also an open question whether the candidates have made inroads on college campuses.
“I wouldn’t describe there being much attention or interest by the students,” Farnsworth said.
This could be a problem for Deeds: Young people tend to vote Democratic.
“For Deeds to win in November, he is going to need a significant greater level of enthusiasm among college-age students,” Farnsworth said.
The gubernatorial candidates seem to be aiming their messages at older demographic groups, said Robert Denton, who chairs the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech University.
“The 18 to 24 [age] cohort is not the key constituency for this election,” he said.
For more on the Web
You can find more about the gubernatorial candidates from their Web sites:
Jessica Doswell is a student in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tags: Virginia , Politics , Governor
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