- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

Like other states, Virginia was hit with a recession between 1990 and 1994. But unlike other states, and thanks to then-Governor Doug Wilder's prudent management, Virginia weathered the storm with no impact on the commonwealth's AAA credit rating. Public higher education, however, paid a price. Specifically, total General Fund appropriations declined during the 1990 1994 period from $4,368 per full time equivalent student (FTE) to $4,024 at four-year institutions and from $2,868 to $2,637 at two-year institutions.

Given an average inflation rate of 3.3 percent, the decline in real dollars was 19 percent. For the same period, tuition and mandatory educational and general fees increased from $1,891 to $3,017 at four-year research institutions; from $1,531 to $2,185 at the four-year comprehensive institutions; and from $1,019 to $1,539 at the two-year institutions.

In essence, a substantial portion of the cost of public higher education was shifted from taxpayers to students and/or their parents, with the largest shift occurring between 1990 and 1993. During this period, General Fund tax support for education and general programs was reduced by $102 million in the aggregate while tuition and fees increased $210 million in the aggregate. Also, in 1993 the General Assembly and the governor directed a related policy change. They required out-of-state students to pay 100 percent of the cost of their education in Virginia. Thus, since 1993, General Fund appropriations have been supporting only Virginia resident students.

Mr. Wilder did what he had to do during the 1990-1994 recession but, beginning with the end of the recession and the beginning of Governor George Allen's term in 1994, the pendulum began to swing back in favor of higher education. From 1993 to 2000, General Fund tax support for in-state FTEs at four-year institutions increased from $5,007 to $8,369, a real increase of 41 percent in seven years. At two-year institutions, General Fund tax support per in-state student increased from $2,557 in 1993 to $4,502 in 2000, a real increase of 48 percent.

With respect to capital projects, Virginia's capital investment on college campuses (excluding funding for maintenance reserve) has totaled over $4.2 billion from 1972 to 2000 from all sources of funds. Of that total, the state's General Fund has provided $855 million, with $275 million of that amount (approximately one-third) appropriated in the 1998-2000 biennial budget alone.

Total higher education spending in all programs education and general, financial aid, auxiliary enterprises, sponsored programs, capital outlays, and others total over $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2000. But until Mr. Allen proposed performance measures in 1996 there had been little attention paid to public accountability in our higher institutions.

How could public institutions spend over $3.5 billion and not be publicly accountable? The historical reason is simple: Individual legislators helping the colleges and universities in their respective districts was the measure of success. It was tangible evidence that they were bringing home the bacon for their constituents. Simply put, performance was measured by the lobbying efforts of the individual institutions. Measuring student outcomes or the value added by our institutions was left to the institution to do as they chose (or chose not to do). Needless to say, certain Virginia institutions do a great job of education and others not so great. What is surprising is that for decades, neither the governor nor the General Assembly saw fit to require of our higher education institutions what is required of practically everyone in the public sector, namely, public accountability.

Regardless of past practices, and to steal a line from the "Wizard of Oz" "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore." Thankfully, Gov. Allen, and now Gov. Gilmore, have ensured that Virginia has done more than simply make up for the decreases of 1990-1994. Public accountability is now required of our institutions. In the future, Virginians will know what to expect from their institutions.

Reports of institutional effectiveness will be developed and made public on an array of subjects including such areas as the number of students graduating or completing educational programs, measures of student learning, and measures of financial accountability. The reports are not intended to compare Virginia schools with each other but, instead, to measure an institution's performance over time and its performance as compared with its peer institutions across the country. Undoubtedly, performance measures will change over time as we gain experience with measuring student outcomes (as opposed to the traditional input measures such as faculty/student ratios and percentages of faculty with terminal degrees). But what is in place to stay is public accountability.

Mr. Allen (now Sen. Allen) once told me that the issues related to higher education funding are so complex as to be almost beyond explanation. He and Mr. Gilmore both care very much about our higher education institutions and both have done much to improve them. Yet, they receive little public credit. Regardless, history will show that the improvements in higher education, begun and implemented under the Allen and Gilmore administrations, will produce significant benefits. Higher education institutions will be publicly accountable for the job they do. Those that do well will thrive; those that fail to do well will get the help they need.

Students attending all Virginia public higher education institutions those thriving and those not doing so well will ultimately benefit from real changes put in place under Messrs. Allen and Gilmore.

Edward L. Flippen, visiting professor of law at George Mason University School of Law, is the former chairman of Gov. Jim Gilmore's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.

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