Long-range plan has begun
Updated: Friday, January 18th, 2013 | By Sean Gorman
Bob McDonnell said during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign that too few Virginians were going to college and getting skills to compete for jobs.
McDonnell pledged he would put Virginia on a path to award "100,000 additional associate's and bachelor's degrees over the next 15 years.”
Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the governor, said McDonnell has taken long strides to meet that goal.
Caldwell pointed to the 2011 passage of the governor's "Top Jobs” legislation. The measure laid out a series of initiatives to reach the 100,000 additional degrees by raising enrollment of Virginia students in college, improving graduation and retention rates and increasing the availability of financial aid to middle and low-income students.
The law sets a goal of awarding 100,000 "cumulative additional” bachelor's and associate college degrees from public institutions between 2011 and 2025. Let's discuss what that figure means.
Virginia awarded 42,825 such degrees during the 2010-11 school year, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. That's the starting point for McDonnell's count. If the same number of degrees was awarded during the 2024-25 school year, the cumulative growth would be zero.
McDonnell wants to ensure that the number graduates continues to rise each year so that over the 14-year by period, a total of 100,000 more degrees will have been awarded than if the number remained flat from the starting point.
To get there, the number of graduates would have to increase by an average of 2.6 percent every year so that in 2024-25, Virginia would be awarding about 61,200 degrees.
That seems like an attainable goal. Over the first 10 school years of this century, the number of degrees increased by an average of about 4 percent a year.
On its website, SCHEV projects statewide degree awards based on estimates from each state public university and college. The forecast, which goes through 2017-18, predicts average annual growth at 1.5 percent. Tod Massa, the director of policy, research and data warehousing at SCHEV, said degree projections from colleges tend to be conservative.
If we use that projection, then awards would have to increase by an average of 3.7 percent each year between 2018-19 and 2024-25 for Virginia to reach its 100,000 cumulative degree goal. That expanded pace would still fall below Virginia's average for the first 10 school years of the century.
Massa called the higher education law a "significant factor” in propelling Virginia toward its degrees goal and that additional state money for colleges in recent years is also helping by defraying some tuition costs. Last winter, the General Assembly and McDonnell approved a $150 million increase in state funding for higher education over the two-year budget cycle that started July 1. That's in addition to a $97 million boost for higher education that came during the budget year that ended July 30, 2012.
We wondered if the state would be on a path to reach those 100,000 degrees even without the governor's Top Jobs law. "I really don't know, I think possibly,” Massa said.
But SCHEV officials also say that even with governor's program, there's no guarantee that the state will reach that goal 15 years from now.
In a Jan. 13 report, SCHEV officials identified hurdles on the path to 100,000 more degrees. Although the state has dedicated more overall funding to higher education in the past two years, SCHEV said many students are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for college. In addition, the number of Virginia's high school graduates has dropped from 87,822 in 2008-2009 to 85,941 in 2011-2012 and isn't expected to return to its high-water mark until 2016-2017.
And, as Massa told us, there's economic uncertainty in projections extending to 2025. For example, a good economy at some point in the future could lead to more people opting for jobs before completing their college education, which would hamper the state's efforts to reach its degree completion goal.
The Council of Higher Education on Jan. 15 asked SCHEV to come up with up with new enrollment projections and degree estimates to ascertain whether the state is on track to meet its goal.
Like the council, we'd also like to have more information before stating whether Virginia is on a path to awarding 100,000 more degrees by 2025. So we'll rate McDonnell's campaign pledge In the Works.
Bob McDonnell for Governor, "Affordable access: Educating Virginians for top jobs and incomes in the knowledge-based economy,” accessed November 9, 2012.
E-mails from Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, Nov. 8-9, 2012.
Governor Bob McDonnell,"Governor's higher education passes key votes,” February 2, 2011.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "2012-2013 tuition and fees at Virginia"s state-supported colleges and universities,”July 2012.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "2011-2012 tuition and fees at Virginia"s state supported colleges and universities,” July 2011.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "Higher Education Opportunity Act analysis of degree targets,”May 21, 2012.
Interview with Kirsten Nelson, spokesman for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, November 8-9, 2012.
E-mails from Kirsten Nelson, Nov. 8-9, 2012.
Interviews with Tod Massa, the director of policy research and data warehousing at SCHEV, Nov. 16, 2012 and Jan. 16, 2013.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, report on cumulative college degree projections, accessed Nov. 9. 2012.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "Agenda Book,” page 37-40. Jan. 14-15, 2013.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Enrollment must grow to meet Va. degree goal,” Jan. 16, 2013.
Legislative Information Service, "H.B. 2510: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011,” April 6, 2011.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "Higher Education Opportunity Act,” accessed Nov. 7, 2012.
State Council of HIgher Education for Virginia, "Higher Education Opportunity Act analysis of degree targets,” May 21, 2012.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia,"Enrollment 2001-2010, Projections and Degree estimates, 2011-12 -- 2017-18,” Sept. 20, 2011.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "Degree projections,” accessed Nov. 21, 2012.
Governor Bob McDonnell, "Governor McDonnell ceremonially signs ‘top jobs" higher education reform legislation,” June 16, 2011.
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