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Cuccinelli and McAuliffe should support a comprehensive approach to college access.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Both major party candidates for governor have issued higher education plans. There are good ideas to be gleaned along with a mish-mash of micromanagement and ill-defined proposals.
More important than either man’s manifesto is the fact that Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe say they support the broader goals advocated by the nonpartisan Grow By Degrees coalition of business and education leaders.
The group has been instrumental in pressing for nearly $400 million in additional state funding over the past three years, still just a first step toward reinvesting after a decade of state cutbacks that pushed tuition out of reach for too many low- and middle-income families.
Woven into all of the coalition’s proposals is a recognition that continued state support is necessary to ensure that the next generation of Virginians has the education necessary to pursue productive careers.
Both candidates favor stronger financial aid in some form. McAuliffe says he’ll emphasize a comprehensive approach ensuring access for all qualified students. Cuccinelli has embraced some Grow By Degrees ideas, including tuition guarantees and increased funding for work-study programs, both of which merit support. But the Republican’s plan also calls for eliminating transfer grants for students who have completed associate degrees at community colleges and wish to continue studies at a four-year institution unless they major in science, math or health care. State leaders are wise to encourage more students to enter those high-priority fields, but not at the expense of others seeking careers in criminal justice and teaching.
Likewise, more study and details are needed on Cuccinelli’s proposal that all colleges offer science and math degrees obtainable at a total cost of $10,000. That sounds good, but more discussion is needed on how the idea fits with community college offerings, and whether it would steer students into career tracks that are less in demand but easier to crunch into a bargain-priced degree of uncertain quality.
Cuccinelli and McAuliffe must keep in mind that state leaders have been hard at work on higher education reforms in recent years. The bones of a reinvestment plan already exist thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2011. What college students and their families need from the commonwealth’s next chief executive is someone committed to pursuing that plan, making sure support doesn’t dry up before it’s completed while resisting the urge to nit-pick it to death.
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