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McDonnell trumpets $31M in higher education budget amendments

state-capitol2Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Monday in a presentation to the General Assembly joint money committees his higher education budget amendments, totaling an additional $31 million.

The additional funding is to support higher education and to fund grants to make college more affordable. These funding initiatives are building off of the sweeping Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011, commonly referred to as the “Top Jobs” legislation, passed by the General Assembly, and the more than $100 million per year allocated in the biennial budget passed by the 2012 General Assembly to enhance studies in science, technology, engineering, math and health care (STEM-H), to make college degrees more affordable and accessible, and to further the goal of an additional 100,000 degrees over the next 15 years.

“Providing students with affordable access to a world-class college education is vital to prepare Virginians for the jobs available in our 21st Century economy and for the economic development of our Commonwealth,” McDonnell said. “There is no better investment we can make to ensure our students are ready for the challenges and opportunities available to them when they enter tomorrow’s workforce. That is why I am proposing to build upon last year’s investment in higher education with an additional $30.85 million to help keep college more affordable and to fund programs that help students, universities, and ultimately all Virginians. This will augment the more than $350 million we have already invested in higher education during my term, including more than $200 million already included in the current budget.”

The governor will propose higher education budget amendments of $7.8 million in incentive funding which supports public higher education institutions’ efforts to graduate more students, more underrepresented groups, and more STEM-H majors and develop accelerated degree paths, $4.9 million to fund enrollment growth, an extra $3.9 million for base operating support at colleges and universities, $1.9 million to supplement financial aid and another $1 million for research and other initiatives.  Further, $4.2 million is included to cover the interest and credit card rebates owed to institutions of higher education.

He is also recommending additional funding in FY2014 for the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program, which provides grants to Virginia students attending Virginia-based private, not-for-profit higher education institutions.  The grant for undergraduate students reached its peak in FY2008 at $3,200 per student, but that award was subsequently reduced to $2,600 per student during the recession.  The current grant is $2,800 per student from FY2013.  The governor proposes investing an anticipated $3.7 million in balances from FY2013, created by fewer applicants than anticipated for the program, to increase the grant award to $3,100 per student in FY2014.

“We must do everything possible to make the dream of a college education more affordable for students across the Commonwealth,” Governor McDonnell said. “The highly successful TAG program provides needed financial resources to those chasing their dream of a degree, and prudent management of the available resources in this program will allow us to increase the amount of money going to each eligible student.  More than 21,000 eligible students will be able to use this increased grant funding to soften the financial burden of their higher education as they prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.”

The $30.85 million also includes $5.7 million for workforce development programs and facilities to attract jobs to Virginia, and $600,000 to cover increasing costs of the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents program, which provides stipends to help offset the cost of room, board and books for individuals who have lost a parent or spouse on active duty in the military.

The governor is recommending an additional $600,000 to address enrollment growth in the Virginia Tech Unique Military Activities Program, which supports military and civilian leadership training.

The governor’s budget amendments also include $250,000 for VCU’s Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center to support the center’s research, clinical evaluation and treatment, and education and outreach to more than 300,000 Virginians suffering from movement disorders.

In addition, the governor is proposing approximately $263 million in newly authorized bonding authority to advance construction projects at higher education and other state facilities. This bonding authority will allow some projects that have completed detailed planning to move forward to the construction/renovation stage.  The state capital outlay advisory committee and the Secretary of Finance will determine the projects that will move forward once detailed planning is complete.

The governor’s budget amendments also allow some equipment and life/safety capital projects in higher education to participate in previous capital pools with anticipated excess authorization.  These include equipment for two facilities at George Mason, support for a stormwater management project at Virginia State, replacement/renovation of an academic building at Norfolk State, construction of a water tank at Virginia State, and expansion of a central utility plant at George Mason.

“I am pleased that the governor continues to support Virginia students and their families through investing in the Commonwealth’s higher education system,” said Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. “Our post-secondary institutions continue to reform and innovate to offer high-quality education to more qualified Virginians. This budget announcement only reinforces the governor’s commitment to creating a highly-skilled, highly educated workforce and strengthening our world-class system of higher education.”

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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