Delegate Nick Rush (R-Montgomery) introduced legislation Monday to make college more affordable for students pursuing degrees in high-demand fields. The measure would encourage public, four year, higher education institutions in Virginia to offer a “Flat-Fee Degree,” or discounted tuition and reduced fees for students seeking degrees that prepare them for employment in fields with a shortage of labor.
“Skyrocketing student debt has become a deterrent to many seeking a college degree and an anchor for many college graduates who spend decades paying off student loans,” said Delegate Rush. “Virginia students are borrowing more than a billion dollars every year to pay for their education. Allowing a discounted ‘Flat-Fee Degree’ will help us fill hard-to staff jobs in Virginia without saddling students with this massive debt.”
“Virginia has some of the world’s best colleges and universities, but the cost of attending them is simply rising too fast,” said House Speaker William J. Howell. “Flat-fee degrees are an innovative idea to help make college more affordable for students. This measure will incentivize Virginia colleges and universities to create more affordable degree programs in high-demand fields. This legislation can be an important step toward making college more affordable.”
To receive discounted tuition and reduced fees, students will be required to commit to a degree program early in their academic endeavors and to finish within four years. These students will get the benefit of a degree that prepares them for a high-demand field. The bill would include the flexibility to recognize that high-demand employment sectors today may not be the same as those 10 or 20 years in the future. Today, for example, it could include training in growth employment sectors such as nursing and business administration or difficult-to-staff fields, such as teaching and public administration. The criteria for “in-demand” degrees would be established by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Colleges and Universities will have an incentive to provide the alternative flat fee degree. Each student pursuing a flat fee degree will count one and a half times for the purpose of enrollment growth, funding guidelines, degree completion and other criteria as set out in the bill.
“Versions of a ‘Flat-Fee Degree’ have been successfully implemented in other states, providing students with more pathways to get an education in fields with the greatest demand for jobs,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “This proposal would be an attractive option for students, for colleges and universities and for employers.”
Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico) said, “When I talk to employers about what factors into their decisions to expand or relocate, having a well-trained workforce is at the top of their lists. The ‘Flat-Fee Degree’ option will make Virginia more competitive for new and existing businesses with good-paying jobs and ease the growing and repressive debt burden facing our students.”