VA education at a critical crossroad as students return to class

By: Laura Geller - bio | email

PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - About 1,200 freshmen started moving into their dorms at Virginia State University Saturday.

As colleges around the Commonwealth prepare for the next school year, higher education advocates worry about the financial state of the university system.

Jaznee Wilson is getting settled into her new home at Byrd hall.

College has always been part of the plan.

"I feel like when you have an education you can do a lot of things," she said.

The question for the North Carolina resident became how to pay to attend Virginia State University.

"We tried to take out student loans and a few of them worked then I got a few scholarships from the school," she said.

It's not an uncommon dilemma.

Over the last two years, the Commonwealth has cut more than $400 million from its higher education budget.

Whit Clement is on the state council.

He says just between last year and the current school year, tuition and mandatory fees are up about 13 percent.

"To continue to maintain the high quality higher education system that Virginia is known for, it has put a greater burden on families," he said.

During the upcoming legislative session the council will once again focus on adequate spending.

This time around that mission is even more crucial as stimulus dollars, which have acted as a band-aid for the last budget cycles, are set to run out in 2012.

"For Virginia to attract the kind of high paying jobs and the kind of high quality life that they want, four year education is absolutely indispensable," said Clement.

Wilson is thankful for the advocacy.

"If your grades aren't as high as they should be to get a full scholarship from the school, you should still be able to go to the college you want to go to instead of the college you have to go to because you can't afford to go to school," she said.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is working on an interim report.

It hopes to have recommendations by the end of the year.

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