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McDonnell to push for increased higher education funding in 2011

Rosalind Helderman

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) recommitted himself Tuesday to a campaign goal of awarding 100,000 new college degrees in Virginia over the next 15 years, saying that Virginia must make a financial "down payment" on the goal in 2011, despite the state's difficult budget outlook.

Speaking at a meeting of his Higher Education Commission, McDonnell said he would ask the General Assembly to adopt the panel's recommendations for restructuring the state's funding formula for colleges and universities during the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.

The goal would be to provide a more stable and predictable funding stream for state schools, which have raised tuition dramatically in recent years as state aid has dipped. Colleges and universities and their students would be provided financial incentives to fulfill key state higher education goals, including graduating more students in four years and awarding more degrees in high-demand science and technology fields.

In exchange for more funding, universities would have to make better use of their facilities, including enrolling more students in year-round courses and expanding distance-learning options. But McDonnell made it clear that the bargain would involve more state funding -- including an additional funding outlay that he estimated could range from $30 to $100 million approved in 2011, and which could grow over time.

"I look at this as a new compact between the state and our leaders in higher education," McDonnell told the commission, which includes legislators, business and college leaders. "We provide more resources. You use them more wisely. And we focus on innovation, results and jobs."

McDonnell said he considers 2011 to be the first year of his 15-year plan to expand the number of degrees award in Virginia. He acknowledged the increased funding commitment would be difficult next year, when projections call for state revenues to start slowly growing again after recent dramatic drops.

But he said higher education would be one of his top three priorities in the budget he unveils in December, along with transportation and economic development.

"I'm committed to making a down payment on the 15-year march to 100,000 new degrees," he told reporters after addressing the group. "That will put Virginia truly on a path, not just to being the most educated state, but the most educated in the areas that will create the jobs of the 21st century.

McDonnell will be asking legislators to tackle an ambitious package of his priorities when they meet for a 45-day session in January, their last before facing election in November 2011. In addition to his higher education proposals, McDonnell has also hinted that he will make major proposals on transportation funding. He will also ask the legislature to adopt recommendations of another gubernatorial commission on government efficiency.

And looming over other priorities is a proposal to privatize state-run liquor stores. McDonnell has said he'd like to call a special legislative session this fall to dispatch that idea, but he's said he will leave it until January if he cannot muster the votes to pass it before then.

By Rosalind Helderman  | October 12, 2010; 11:33 AM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman  
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