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Business council launches higher education support campaign


BLACKSBURG, Va., June 22, 2009 – The Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) today kicked off a broad-based, bipartisan initiative, Grow By Degrees, to build support for Virginia's colleges and universities.

“As a Commonwealth, we must invest in our colleges, universities and community colleges if we are to produce the quantity and quality of Virginia college graduates necessary to fill the increasingly complex needs of the next decade’s job market,” said Heywood Fralin, VBHEC Chairman and Roanoke area business leader.

While the state’s budget has grown since the beginning of the decade, funding for Virginia’s colleges and universities has dropped precipitously. According to the council, average per-student funding for Virginians at four-year colleges and universities has dropped roughly 40 percent since 2000—from $10,675 to $6,586 (in constant dollars and excluding the temporary federal stimulus funding).

“Virginia must break the boom-bust cycle of higher education funding by which state support for our public colleges, universities and community colleges is cut first and deepest whenever economic challenges appear,” said Don Finley, VBHEC president.

The council’s efforts are predicated on the belief that economic success, individually and throughout the state, is based on attainment of a college degree. Fralin notes, “The logic behind this initiative is simple: Virginia’s economic future will be brighter … if we increase the number of Virginians with college degrees and employable work skills attained through our community college system… if we more fully realize the enormous return on investment from university-based research and public-private collaboration on workforce training ….”

The Grow By Degrees coalition’s 2020 vision provides a blueprint for increasing the percentage of Virginians with college degrees to 50 percent by 2020—a goal that will place Virginia on course to be a national and international leader in educational attainment and personal income.

Support for advanced education comes not just from business leaders. VBHEC engaged a team of bipartisan pollsters who found broad support for higher education among Virginians. While 75 percent of those surveyed believe that a college degree is needed to succeed in today’s economy, only 35 percent of college-age Virginians currently enroll in our state’s colleges, community colleges or universities. Only 42 percent of our citizens hold a college degree of any kind.

Grow by Degrees has identified seven key policy priorities:

  • Awarding 70,000 more high-quality degrees over the next 10 years
  • Targeting the new degrees to high-income, high-demand job sectors
  • Creating cost-efficient new ways to access college degrees
  • Expanding job-specific training at community colleges
  • Increasing public-private collaboration on university-based research
  • Enhancing economic development and workforce initiatives in each region
  • Making college affordable for low- and middle-income students and families

The coalition plans to achieve these goals through four major activities:

  • Forming a "grass-tops" advocacy coalition with near-term and sustainable impact
  • Conducting an intensive election-year dialogue on higher education’s impact on the Virginia economy
  • Encouraging a major higher education legislative initiative led by the new governor in 2010-11
  • Increasing understanding of higher education finance among General Assembly and executive branch officials

For more information or to become involved with Grow by Degrees, see the web site www.growbydegrees.org.

The Virginia Business Higher Education Council was founded in 1994 to educate state leaders and the public about higher education’s vital role in Virginia’s economy and to secure adequate state financial support for its excellence and accessibility.