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McDonnell: $50M down payment on higher-ed push

Gov. Bob McDonnell will call for $50 million in new higher-education spending in his amendments to the 2010-2012 state budget, he said today.

McDonnell made the announcement as part of the rollout of Preparing for the Top Jobs of the 21st Century: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011, a legislative package that he hopes will lay a foundation for a sustained program to increase the number of Virginians with college degrees and make Virginia a leader in this 21st century global economy.

“In our 21st century economy, attaining a college degree is more and more important. To gain the good paying jobs of the future, our citizens must have access to quality higher education. Providing that access, and making it affordable, is the key to the future competitiveness and prosperity of our Commonwealth,” McDonnell said during his remarks to the third meeting of his Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment, which was held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The governor reiterated his goal of graduating 100,000 more degrees in the next 15 years and the commission adopted it as a state policy priority. The $50 million includes a down payment on this goal.

“As the father of three children in college I have seen firsthand the result of our failure to properly invest in higher education. Over the past decade college tuition has doubled, and that is simply not acceptable. The college cost burden has shifted heavily to tuition-paying parents and their families. These are tough times in our state economy, and our state budget. But we must have the foresight to invest wisely in the core functions of government that are key to the future of the Commonwealth,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell’s remarks drew some criticism from Democratic Party of Virginia chair Dick Cranwell, who said the governor’s initiative resembles “the same pie-in-the-sky approach to government that led to the downfall of his first plan to privatize the state’s ABC system.”

“If the governor really believes in making investments in education, our crumbling transportation system or any other priority, he cannot continue to play shell games with a budget that would be in deficit had he not balanced it on the backs of Virginia’s retirees. Until Bob McDonnell points to a new, sustainable source of revenue for his many shifting priorities, it is impossible for Virginians to take these announcements seriously,” Cranwell said.

Commission member Edd Houck, a Democratic state senator from Spotsylvania, took a different tack, stressing that the focus on higher-education goals “is not a partisan issue.”

“Some have suggested this is the most significant and comprehensive higher education initiative since the creation of the community-college system 40 years ago,” Houck said. “Virginia’s colleges, and tuition-paying students and their parents, are at the tipping point and we cannot afford to let this singular opportunity for meaningful reform pass us by.

“This is not a partisan issue. It is a Virginia issue. I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate and the House of Delegates on both sides of the aisle to enact the recommendations of this Commission,” Houck said.

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at