Tim Kaine’s national call this year to make a college education more affordable clashes with his record when he was governor of Virginia, according to the Republican National Committee.
Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, wrote a Sept. 12 op-ed in Time magazine touting proposals by Hillary Clinton, his running mate, to cut college costs.
He said the ticket’s goal is to make a college education debt-free for everyone and tuition-free for in-state students from families who earn less than $125,000 a year.
In explaining how the plan would work, Kaine wrote, "institutions and states alike will have to commit to lowering costs and raising their own investments in education if they want to continue receiving federal funding."
The RNC fired back the same day with a blog post headlined, "Tim Kaine hiked tuition as governor, but now claims to champion affordability."
We investigated the RNC’s statement. We’ll start with the easy part, that Kaine now "claims to champion affordability."
This is self-evident. Kaine wrote in the op-ed that the Democratic ticket’s plan "will help anyone willing to work for a quality, affordable college degree."
Now, let’s look at the thornier part: whether "Kaine hiked tuition" when he was governor from January 2006 to January 2010. While reading this, keep in mind that Virginia’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
So when Kaine took office, tuition for the 2005-06 budget year already was set. The average cost for in-state tuition and instructional fees at four-year institutions - not including room and board - was $3,812.
It rose to $5,003 in fiscal 2009-10, when Kaine left office. That’s a 31.2 percent increase. Adjusted for inflation, it's about a 19 percent rise.
The average cost for tuition and instructional fees at Virginia’s community colleges rose from $2,182 in the 2005-06 school year to $2,716 in 2009-10. That’s a 24.5 percent increase. Adjusted for inflation, it's about a 13 percent rise.
Sure enough, tuition did go up during Kaine’s term. But did Kaine "hike" tuition, as the RNC says? The answer is complicated.
Technically, Kaine didn’t raise the rates. Virginia’s public colleges largely are autonomous, and have had freedom under the last four governors to set their own tuition.
Kaine, however, did have a role in setting political conditions early in his term that made it easy for colleges to raise tuition and budget conditions later in his administration that pressured colleges to keep increasing them.
Virginia colleges usually generate about 82 percent of their revenues through tuition, fees and grants, according to data from the House Appropriations Committee.
The remaining 18 percent is allocated by the General Assembly. It comes from the state’s general fund, which is raised mostly through income and sales taxes.
Kaine, when he entered the governor’s mansion half way through fiscal 2005-06, inherited a $1.45 billion general fund budget for higher education. That rose to $1.76 billion in the 2007-08 budget year.
Despite that healthy increase, in-state tuition and fees went up cumulatively by about 17 percent during the first two years of Kaine’s administration, according to figures from the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia.
Although Kaine expressed concern about the rising rates, we were unable to find an instance in which he publicly castigated colleges for their stewardship. Neither he nor the General Assembly tried to cap in-state tuition increases at the inflation rate - a restraint that was used during the consecutive governorships of Republicans George Allen and Jim Gilmore from 1994 to 2002. Kaine said he would favor such a cap only if the state significantly raised its funding of colleges.
In late 2008, Virginia began to feel the sting of the Great Recession and Kaine began ordering massive cuts in state spending. They included a $341 million reduction in the general fund contribution to colleges during the final two budget years of his term. Tuition increased by about 13 percent during that two-year period.
In 2012, when Kaine was running successfully for the U.S. Senate, state Republicans said the college cuts ordered by Kaine drove up tuition. Indeed, college officials did warn during the recession that they would have to recoup money by raising student costs.
But it should be noted that all of the spending levels Kaine recommended for colleges and universities - within a few dollars - were in state budgets that were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly.
We also should point out that before, during and after the recession, Virginia colleges have been raising tuition and fees well beyond the rate of inflation.
The average annual increase during the past 15 school years has been 7.2 percent, according to SCHEV. Inflation has increased by an average of about 2.3 percent annually during the same span, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Virginia’s experience wasn’t unique when Kaine was governor; tuition and fees for in-state students at four-year public universities rose across the U.S. during his term. The U.S. Department of Education said the national average increased by 23 percent during that span; the College Board says costs rose by 29 percent.
The RNC says, "Tim Kaine hiked tuition as governor, but now claims to champion affordability."
As the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kaine clearly is taking on college affordability by advocating debt-free college for everyone and tuition-free education for in-state students from families making less than $125,000 a year.
When Kaine was governor from 2006 to 2010, in-state tuition and instructional fees rose 31.2 percent at four-year colleges and 24.5 percent at community colleges.
But it’s misleading to say Kaine "hiked" the rates. Colleges largely are autonomous in Virginia and allowed to set their own student costs. Tuition has been rising steadily in Virginia and across the nation for decades.
On the other hand, Virginia’s governor and its legislature do create political and budgetary conditions that can encourage or discourage colleges from steep tuition increases. While Kaine did not pull the lever for the tuition hikes, they did occur under his watch.
So on the whole, we rate the RNC’s statement Half True.