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U.S. Senate candidate George Allen says he put the brakes on rising college costs when he was governor from 1994 to 1998.
"Before I was governor, tuition was skyrocketing, and we stopped that," Allen said in a May 25 debate between four candidates seeking the GOP Senate nomination. "We capped, and then we froze college tuition."
Allen won the Republican primary on June 12 and will face Democrat Tim Kaine this fall. They are seeking to replace Democrat Jim Webb, who is not seeking a second Senate term.
We wondered if the Allen administration really did put a lid on tuition. Allen, while making this claim, shared credit with the Democratic-controlled legislature that served with him.
Dan Allen, a senior adviser to the campaign, pointed us to a July 2011 report from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
The study said that during the early 1990s, colleges and universities increased tuitions by double digits annually to compensate for state funding cuts made by the General Assembly and then-Gov. Doug Wilder to help balance the budget during a recession.
Wilder, in his final budget proposal made during an improving economy in December 1993, urged the General Assembly to cap tuition and instructional fee increases for in-state students at 5 percent during the 1994-95 school year and 4 percent during 1995-96.
Allen, who took office in January 1994, successfully urged the General Assembly go a step further and cap the increases at 3 percent during each of the next two school years.
In 1996, as SCHEV notes, Allen and the General Assembly froze tuition and instructional fees entirely. The action did not apply to a number of other mandatory college costs, such as fees for athletic programs, health services and campus transportation. Lawmakers eased some of the burden on colleges by appropriating an additional $200 million for higher education.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch in January 1998 reported that a strong economy during Allen’s term allowed him to finance the tuition freeze. State tax revenues grew by about 45 percent during his tenure.
Allen, in his farewell budget, recommended freezing tuition through 2000. His successor, Republican Jim Gilmore, rolled back tuition and instructional fees by 20 percent for in-state students.
When Allen arrived in the governor’s mansion during the 1993-94 academic year, the average tuition and instructional fees for full time, in-state undergraduate students at four-year colleges was $2,518, according to SCHEV’s historical tables.
That rose to $2,717 in the 1995-1996 academic year and stayed at that level through 1997-1998, the last academic year of Allen’s term.
Using inflation-adjusted figures based on 1992 dollars, the report shows the amount of tuition and instructional fees went from $2,383 in the 1993-94 academic year down to $2,320 in 1997-98. Even when other mandatory fees that were not subject freeze are added in, the college costs remained flat after being adjusted for inflation.
Costs at two-year colleges showed the same trend: in-state tuition and instructional fees at those institutions were basically flat during Allen’s term.
Allen said that, as governor, he stopped soaring tuition costs by implementing a tuition freeze.
Allen and the General Assembly did impose a freeze after tuition had risen sharply during the early 1990s recession. Allen had leeway to cap tuitions because a healthy economy during his term allowed lawmakers to increase state appropriations to colleges and universities.
We rate Allen’s claim True.
YouTube, "Falls Church 2012 U.S. Senate Debate" May 25, 2012. (Allen’s statement is about 34.5 minutes into video.)
E-mail from Dan Allen, senior advisor to the George Allen campaign, June 5, 2012.
Interview with Dan Hix, finance policy director at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, June 12, 2012.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "2011-12 tuition and fees at Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities," July 2011.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, "2001-02 tuition and fee report," June 20, 2001.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia,"Tuition and fee report," June 22, 1999.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Allen fulfilled most promises - welfare and criminal justice reforms are among his accomplishments," January 11, 1998.
Richmond Times Dispatch, "Excerpts from the governor’s speech," January 15, 1998.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "College panel to review impact of tuition increases," December 17, 1996.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Education sets likely battleground," January 12, 1994.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Colleges fear repercussions from Allen’s tuition freeze," September 21, 1995.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Allen aims to extend tuition cap -- plan for two more years finds bipartisan support, with caveat," March 30, 1996.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Pay now, learn later -- tuition plan’s benefits aren’t for everyone," December 15, 1996.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "A record $40 billion budget -- Allen’s 2-year plan spreads the wealth for education, tax cuts," December 20, 1997.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Schools, colleges got overdue help in spending plan," March 13, 1994.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "$90 million in changes are suggested," January 22, 1994.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Budget built on tax cuts -- pay raise, bonds, fewer jobs part of Allen proposal," December 19, 1994.
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