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2011 February 7 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Va. Colleges Get Proposed Funding Infusion

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s public colleges and universities will be eligible to apply for $50 million to enhance enrollment and retention, increase the number of students pursuing science and health care fields and boost undergraduate financial aid.

Dan Hix, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s finance policy director, said that institutions must apply for the funding by submitting proposals to Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson. The grants would go to institutions that propose efforts that line up with the goals of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform.

Hix told SCHEV that under McDonnell’s proposed budget amendments, $33 million would be available for schools to use to use to boost enrollment, retention and graduation with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, as well as health care. Schools could apply for $13 million to use for undergraduate financial aid, and $4 million would be available to upgrade online course offerings and the use of technology.

Robinson would consult with staff members of the General Assembly money committees, the Department of Planning and Budget and SCHEV to determine which proposals to fund. It’s expected that applicants would “propose how to reduce operational costs, increase access and so on” without proposing tuition increases or financial-aid reductions, Hix said.

The budget bill would also add $25 million to help universities commercialize their research, another priority of the higher-education commission, which aims to leverage Virginia’s higher-education system to enhance the state’s economy and help prepare workers for employment in high-demand, higher-income fields.

Universities also would get $32.6 million under the proposed budget legislation to fund deferred capital projects in the second year of the biennium.

The governor also has proposed adding $2.5 million for the Tuition Assistance Grant Program, which gives $2,600 awards to students who attend private schools in Virginia. The infusion would increase each individual grant to $2,610, revised downward from the previously estimated $2,700 per student. SCHEV estimates it would take $4 million to fund the $2,700-per-student grants.

Other benefits for state higher-education institutions include the addition of $6.5 million in interest earnings and $1.3 million in credit-card rebates in the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Hix also said officials have yet to determine the status of $10 million that was slated to be cut from higher education last year; the funds remain in a central account.

Among specific colleges, Virginia Commonwealth University would get $5 million for its cancer center, Eastern Virginia Medical School would get $5 million for medical education programs, Old Dominion University would receive an additional $5 million for base operations, and the Virginia Community College System would get $3 million to support non-credit workforce development.

Hix also discussed McDonnell’s previously announced plan to withhold half of $34 million in non-general fund revenue slated for VCU. This was proposed in response to VCU having to raise tuition by 24 percent to make up for funding reductions and increased costs. The money could still be allocated, depending on what the school does when it sets tuition for 2011-12.

Because about 90 percent of VCU’s students are Virginia residents, the university cannot rely on out-of-state tuition to subsidize in-state students’ education.

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