- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

RICHMOND — College enrollment in Virginia is expected to increase by nearly 61,000 students this decade, about 22,000 more than previously forecast, according to a report released yesterday.

The projected increase exceeds enrollment targets and could shut out as many as 6,300 Virginians from the state’s four-year colleges by 2010 unless more money and some creative solutions can be found, said the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

“Clearly the needs are far greater than we originally thought, and we need to respond,” said Phyllis Palmiero, executive director of SCHEV.

A SCHEV report in May said the state’s public colleges were underfunded by $351 million a year. The latest enrollment projections further widen the gap by $125 million, SCHEV said.

“We’re looking at nearly half a billion dollars just to meet operational costs,” Miss Palmiero said.

The revised forecast was presented yesterday to the council, which will use the report to formulate its budget request and agenda for the 2004 General Assembly.

Charles W. Steger, president of Virginia Tech, told the council that the additional $125 million “is roughly equivalent to building another institution the size of Radford University.”

Mr. Steger said the report signals that Virginia’s public colleges and universities “are rapidly approaching an impasse” between the demand for higher education and the state’s ability to meet that demand while maintaining high standards.

“Virginians must decide, and decide soon, if they are going to commit the financial resources needed to keep our colleges and universities excellent and accessible,” he said.

In 2001, SCHEV predicted that more than 38,000 students would seek admission to Virginia colleges by the end of the decade. The forecast helped rally support for a $900 million bond for college construction projects, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November.

The estimate turned out to be too low, largely because the recession that followed the September 11 attacks prompted more students to stay in school rather than enter the job market, SCHEV said. New data from the 2000 census also were used in the revised projections. The report said more than 20,000 of the new students expected in the previous forecast had enrolled by last year.

Of the students expected by 2010, about 31,000 are headed for public universities, including about 18,000 at two-year institutions, the report says.

Community colleges, unlike the four-year schools, are not required to set enrollment targets. But SCHEV said growth at the community colleges will be nearly three times what was projected in 2001, clearly exceeding the available space.

Miss Palmiero acknowledged that it is unlikely that the legislature will completely close the funding gap, which translates into about 3,130 full-time equivalent faculty positions. Tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates have increased 46 percent during the past two years, and further increases are likely to be part of the solution, she said.

“Colleges need the revenue to operate. If they can’t get it from the state, they have to get it from the students,” Miss Palmiero said.

SCHEV, however, also is looking at other measures, including ways to encourage students to earn college credits during their senior year of high school so that they can earn a degree in 3 years or less.

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