- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

RICHMOND Virginia's financially strapped public colleges must improve research and instruction while absorbing an additional 38,000 students by 2010, says the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
Those goals are at the core of a strategic plan intended to guide state legislators and other policy-makers over the next four years. SCHEV unanimously approved the plan at its meeting last week.
"While some might ask how we can afford to meet these goals given the current economic climate, I would ask how we can afford not to," said Phyllis Palmiero, the council's executive director.
The strategic plan does not address the question of how colleges will reach the goals in an era of tight resources. The state has slashed support for public colleges by 22 percent because revenues have fallen about $6 billion short of projections over the past year.
Colleges responded by increasing tuition by an average of 11 percent in 2002, offsetting about 56 percent of the cuts. Cost-cutting measures have included reductions in faculty and course offerings at many schools.
Other state agencies also have weathered budget cuts, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly has made it clear that taxes will not be increased in this election year.
"While we want to be efficient, it will take funding to accomplish our goals," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, chairman of the Council of Presidents. "I don't know where that will come from."
Each of Virginia's public colleges develops its own strategic plan. Those plans will form the basis for an overall plan for reaching SCHEV's goals. A summary of the "implementation plan" will be released this fall, and a report on progress in meeting SCHEV's goals will be issued in the fall of 2005.
SCHEV's strategic plan offers some broad guidelines for pursuing the three goals. For example, it suggests promoting timely graduation and seamless transfers from community colleges to cope with enrollment growth.
The plan calls for improving Virginia's national stature in research by recruiting and retaining top research teams and pursuing a bigger share of federal research grants. Data compiled by SCHEV in 2001 showed Virginia universities lagged far behind their peers nationally in research.
"We must do something on research," SCHEV Chairman Carl Kelley said. "However, we don't want to run the other direction on research and have a drop in quality of instruction."

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