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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Kilgore proposes tuition grant boost; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Virginia’s public colleges could get crowded over the next decade. The solution, according to one gubernatorial hopeful, is to make it easier for students to go to private schools.

Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor, told reporters Wednesday that his administration would work to increase the state’s annual tuition as-sistance grant for private college students from $2,500 to $4,000.

Increasing the grant amount would bring the state aid for private school students closer to what public college students get, leading more to enroll in private colleges, the former attorney general said.

A July report by the State Commission on Higher Education in Virginia found that enrollment in the state’s community colleges and four-year universities will increase by more than 56,000 between 2004 and 2011.

The authors found that schools might be able to keep up, but that’s by no means certain.

At the end of the day, it’s simply a better investment to try to get more students into private colleges than to beef up state schools like Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, Kilgore said.

While there are a lot more students coming into the system over the next few years, the same quirk of demographics that created the bubble will cause it to quickly dissipate, he said.

“It’ll drop off dramatically,” Kilgore said. “It’s a short-term problem.”

Raising the grant is just part of the solution, though.

“It’ll ease some of the burden, not all of the burden,” he said.

“I’m very pleased to hear that,” said Jim Davis, president of Shenandoah University in Winchester, when told of Kilgore’s plan to increase the grant. He and leaders of other private institutions have been working to get the TAG raised for years.

Private schools have already been talking to the commonwealth about the coming influx of students and what to do about them.

“We’ve offered that we feel we could take up to 10,000 more students if they could increase” the TAG, Davis said. “If you really wanted to be competitive, the closer you can get to [matching the approximate $8,000 subsidy provided to students at state universities] the better.”

Shenandoah is well-positioned to take in about 500 more students, according to Davis. The school has been growing by “about 100 students a year for the last 10 years,” he said. The school can handle “about 3,500 students at a reasonably comfortable pace.”

“Beyond that, it would require pretty significant capital investment,” he said. Still, “it’s a good interim solution.”

Over at the campaign of Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, the response was quick. Press Secretary Delacey Skinner sent out an e-mail to reporters while Kilgore was still on the conference call, criticizing the candidate’s opposition to the 2004 budget deal.

“From his opposition to the budget that invested $240 million in higher education to his weak and wavering support for a Southside university, Jerry Kilgore has been on the wrong side of Virginia’s higher education system,” Skinner says.

Kilgore also said his administration would fund 100 yearly scholarships to get more students into engineering programs.

“It’s no secret that America is lagging behind” in training engineers, Kilgore said. Paying for the scholarships — which would be given on the condition that the newly minted engineers would work in the Old Dominion for a set period — is one way the commonwealth can hold on to and improve its high-tech economy.

Scholarships would be made available to graduating high school seniors based on their entire academic record.

“Need could be one factor,” but it wouldn’t be the determining factor, Kilgore said. “It’s going to be based on getting good students into the engineering field.”

The candidate also said he’s backing a program to make more course offerings available at rural community colleges via distance learning, and increase learning opportunities for students in the business community.

“As we all know, you sometimes learn more outside of college than you do in it,” he said.

Taken together, the higher grant amounts and scholarships would cost about $21 million per year, to be paid for by “prioritizing this budget,” Kilgore said.