By Steffanie Atkins
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Nearly 100 college students gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday to advocate for affordable, quality education.
Members of the group Virginia 21 expressed concerns about Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposed budget adjustments on funding for the state’s public colleges and universities. They said the budget proposals would reduce state assistance to colleges by 15 percent and cap college tuition increases at $362 per student.
Students fear that those proposals would squeeze schools financially and force them to lower the quality of education.
Jamie Clift, a student at Longwood University, said that if tuition can’t be raised and state funding is reduced, schools may not be able to pay their expenses. “Basically that means our professors might leave if they have better offers somewhere because they can’t raise their salaries for the cost of living,” Clift said.
Jerusalem Solomon, who chairs Virginia Commonwealth University’s chapter of Virginia 21, said McDonnell’s budget proposal would provide less money for higher education than the current budget. Solomon worries about the impact on schools.
“If we lose the great professors that we have or the awesome opportunities that we have – our technology, our buildings, our library – it’s going to downgrade the quality of our education that we’re getting, and soon our degrees won’t mean as much,” Solomon said.
Kaitlyn Howard, an intern with Virginia 21 and a political science major at VCU, agreed. She said she is also concerned about class sizes and wants to make sure schools get additional funding.
“We want to make sure the quality of education doesn’t get lost in the budget fight,” Howard said.
Carolyn Horton, a student at George Mason University, said the state must balance its overall budget needs with the needs of higher education. “We’ve reached this certain point that more funding is great, but then we also have to be worried about our budget as a state,” she said.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling showed his support for the students attending the Virginia 21 Rally Day. He applauded their efforts to influence the legislative process and urged them to stay involved as they get older.
“I don’t care whether it’s the Republican extreme or the Democrat extreme; most people don’t live on the extremes. The live in the mainstream, and we focus on the mainstream,” Bolling said. “I’m counting on folks like you to make sure Virginia stays in the mainstream.”
The lieutenant governor also posed for a photograph with nearly 100 advocates with Virginia 21.