Last week on a very chilly Wednesday morning, more than 50 Virginia Tech undergraduate and graduate students made their way up an icy hill to a building that served as the offices of some of the greatest men and women in the history of the state of Virginia — The Richmond Capitol. Students had devoted an entire 24 hours away from classes, from studying, and from friends to represent the student body of Tech. The students pled with their legislators asking them to think about higher education and what it means to the state.
What does higher education mean to Virginia? Virginia is the home to eight United States presidents, one of which made education for everyone his dream. In a letter to Joseph Cabell, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “A system of general education, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” Now Virginia ranks 40th in the nation in per capita student spending for higher education funding, making it much more difficult for the richest to the poorest students to have an opportunity at receiving a college education. The state cannot expect the public universities we have in Virginia, especially Tech, to maintain their positions as high ranking institutions without adequate funding. One of the great things about our state is the high quality public higher education we have to offer college students. Students graduate high school from all over the country and come to Tech, and we still manage to maintain a good retention of Virginia residents. Without the state doing its part we can’t stay competitive with other major institutions.
Why should Tech receive more state funding and why do we lobby for it? The latest edition of VT Magazine contains an article written by Laura Fornash and Ralph Byers about the importance of Hokie Day and its impact on the university. In fact, Tech was founded on legislative advocacy. In 1866, Virginians urged the General Assembly to create a new agriculture and mechanical school to use funds allocated from the Morrill Land-Grant Act. After six years of fighting, legislation was finally passed in March 1872 allocating the land-grant funds to two colleges, one-third to the Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute and two-thirds to the Preston and Olin Institute, which reorganized to create the new Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, which we now know as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. If you’ve ever wondered why you see “a land grant university” on letterheads and stationery, this is why.
Through these same efforts of what our school was founded on, we still fight for that same funding. A college cannot be funded by the state and then be expected to fend for itself; Tech receives only 33 percent of its funding from the state with the rest being made up by tuition, and the funding from the state will only decrease leading to a significant increase in tuition. Ten years ago Tech was receiving $190.1 million from the state, and today it only receives $135.6 million, even though our enrollment has increased.