Plagued by an economic recession, state governments across the nation have been appropriating fewer funds from the state coffers to higher education.
Between fiscal year 2011 and 2012, state funding for higher education declined 7.6 percent nationally, according to the annual Grapevine study. The study, conducted by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy in coordination with the State Higher Education executive officers, collects data from state agencies around the nation and compiles them into a database.
Specifically at Virginia Tech, state funding has decreased from $182.2 million in 2001 to $131.3 million in 2011.
“I think the decline reflects the limited capacity of states to increase funding for higher education,” said James Palmer, the editor of Grapevine. “The states, for the most part, don’t have the revenue to make those increases, especially in light of competing demand on state budgets for things like health care.”
However, Tech’s Office of Government Relations is working with state legislators in the Virginia General Assembly to influence the amount of funding provided to Tech from the state.
Elizabeth Hooper, the state legislative liaison for the Office of Government Relations, works with state legislators in the general assembly to raise concerns about and advocate for the university.
“While we do perform lobbies to function, we consider ourselves liaisons because we are state employees and we work for a state agency,” Hooper said. “In general, we provide information about legislation. We can provide information and make legislators aware of what our budget requests may be.”
In addition to speaking with legislators about university concerns and issues, Hooper, along with Tech’s President Charles Steger and other officials from government relations, relay information from legislators to the university.
“We need to know the intent of the legislators,” said Larry Hincker, the university spokesman. “The president’s job really is to speak for Virginia Tech and to ensure that legislators understand what our needs are and the impact of legislation. In general, they speak for higher education and try to ensure that the state funds its fair share to higher education in the state of Virginia.”
Amid a recession-stricken economy, however, it has been difficult for states to provide as much funding for higher education as they have in the past.
“Higher education funding is really tied to the fortunes of the economy,” Palmer said. “If the economy goes up, state funding for higher education goes up; if the economy goes down, state funding goes down.”
This decrease in funding has forced universities to make changes in their budgets and locate new sources of revenue.
“Over the past decade, state investment in higher education has been shrinking,” Hincker said. “That is the reason for why tuition has increased significantly over the past decade. The state has been disinvesting in higher education, and in order to keep the lights on and pay the salaries of the faculty, we’ve increased tuition.”
For the 2011-12 academic year, the estimated cost of tuition was $8,899, up $801 from the year before.
However, Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose gubernatorial campaign platform included higher education support and reforms, has implemented plans to improve state support for higher education.
“We really had the spotlight put on us,” Hooper said. “We really had to show why the higher education was a worthy investment.”
In 2010, McDonnell issued Executive Order No. 9, establishing the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment to address higher education issues. In 2011, the Higher Education Opportunity Act — which established a new funding system and instituted incentives for universities that improve degree completion, enrollment and graduation rates — was passed.
Still, universities have suffered state funding cuts under the recession. According to the most recent Grapevine study, Virginia schools have seen a 14.7 percent decrease in state funding between the last fiscal year and this fiscal year.