By Glen Sturtevant

Sturtevant is a state senator who represents parts of Richmond, Chesterfield County and all of Powhatan County. He is a Republican.

The already high cost of a college degree is rising at unsustainable rates in the Commonwealth. Virginia is now ranked 6th highest in the nation for tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities. Costs have risen more than 75 percent in just 10 years alone. Without real, meaningful action by the General Assembly and our public colleges and universities, even more students will find themselves priced out of higher education all together.

As more and more of Virginia’s students are having to take on enormous debt to finance a college degree, they and their families are nervous about their financial futures, and rightfully so. Virginia families spend, on average, 32 percent of household income to pay for college. As the father of three young children, all of whom will be in college at the same time, this is a concern I understand firsthand. While my wife and I are working to pay off our own student loans, we are simultaneously saving for our kids’ tuitions.

Every year I have introduced legislation to make college, and continuing education, more affordable and accessible for our current and future students. Providing top-notch education isn’t free — but there must be a balance to ensure that colleges and universities are still accessible for Virginia families. Limiting tuition increases is just part of that puzzle — but it is a very meaningful step for students struggling to afford their education.

As we move forward deliberating over the state budget, my colleagues in the House of Delegates have proposed significant funding for Virginia’s public colleges and universities — which they will receive if they freeze tuition. This is not a mandate for our schools. It is a reasonable common sense approach.

Ensuring that quality, affordable higher education is in reach for all Virginians is a shared responsibility that must be taken seriously by state lawmakers and our public colleges and universities alike. By funding and freezing college tuition, the General Assembly can fulfill our side of the bargain by providing our public institutions with needed revenue without hamstringing our kids’ financial futures.

Offering relief for students and their families from another year of tuition increases while our public colleges get what they need means that everybody wins.

The skyrocketing costs of higher education and the subsequent student debt can severely hinder a student’s future success. Many young adults, faced with making significant payments of student loans into their 30s, are delaying life milestones far longer than those who came before them. That includes home ownership, marriage, and parenthood. It also makes it harder for entrepreneurs pull together resources and start a business.

The average student loan debt for a Virginia graduate in 2017, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, was almost $30,000. And more than 55% of graduates were facing some amount of student loan debt.

Meanwhile, parents and even grandparents are finding themselves reaching further and further into their own pockets to help put their students through college. Parent PLUS loans disbursements have increased over 600 percent in 10 years as Virginia parents struggle to cover the leftover college costs after applying student loans and other financial aid. The number of Virginians over the age of 60 who have student loan debt is now double what it was five years ago.

Without action — this problem is only going to get worse. The House of Delegates has proposed a reasonable way forward that can begin to offer hope and economic relief for those seeking brighter futures. I hope my Senate colleagues join me in giving it the consideration and support that it deserves.

We still have a lot of progress to make, but for the sake of the students and families we represent, our neighbors and our friends, I’m hopeful that this will be a turning point towards a better future.

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