- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Legislators from both parties and both houses of the General Assembly gathered Tuesday to highlight more than 20 bills that they say would improve higher education in Virginia.

More than 10 percent of the state’s lawmakers participated in a news conference at Capitol Square, aiming their comments at university financing practices and tuition assistance.

“Virginians want our public universities to be more transparent, more accountable and more efficient,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.

Lawmakers said their proposals would make college more affordable and provide financial aid to in-state students.

“Many of my colleagues and I in the General Assembly have worked to increase the number of in-state slots at Virginia’s public colleges and universities for nearly a decade,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centerville.

“The goal of this initiative is to ensure that qualified Virginia high school students are not turned away from Virginia’s premier universities in favor of out-of-state students. We must continue to work to ensure that our graduating high school students are able to pursue their secondary education here in Virginia,” Hugo said.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, said he had learned, to his surprise, that colleges sometimes use tuition from certain in-state students to subsidize other students.

“Like many parents in Virginia, I have worked hard to save money with the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan to provide a prepaid tuition for my son’s future education,” Albo said.

“I was shocked and extremely upset to learn that some of the money that I worked hard to save is going to be used to pay for some other student’s tuition. My bill, HB 1410, simply says that a school cannot take money from one student and give it to another student against their will.”

Hugo said he and his colleagues already have filed 20 bills and have “another four or five coming” to change how the state’s institutions of higher education operate.

Some delegates who paid their way through college said their legislation focuses on fostering financial transparency and providing more information on how state-funded schools spend their money.

The bills touted by lawmakers include:

- SB 985, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. It would prohibit in-state tuition and instructional fees for undergraduate students at Virginia’s public institutions of higher education from increasing more than the national inflation rate for consumer goods.

- SB 1088, by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian. It would require the governing board of each state college and university to tell incoming freshmen the maximum amount that their tuition could increase during their four years in school.

- SB 1405, by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. It would require state colleges and universities to notify students and accept public comments before raising tuition or fees.

- HB 1410, submitted by Albo, and HB 1886, by Hugo. These bills would require most state colleges and universities to set aside at least 75 percent of the undergraduate admissions for Virginia residents.

- HB 2260, filed by Del. Ronald Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach. It would require each school to hire “a full-time ombudsman to provide confidential and independent assistance to faculty, staff, and students in resolving complaints, conflicts, disputes, and other problems.”

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