Press Releases | General Education

Report Reveals Pivotal Challenges For Virginia Higher Education

Virginia colleges must enhance quality and remain affordable for students
January 30, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC—A report issued today warns that certain trends—if ignored—threaten to erode the Commonwealth’s historic prominence in American higher education.

The report, “The Diffusion of Light and Education,” which takes its title from the words of Thomas Jefferson, examines Virginia’s 15 public four-year institutions and 24 private institutions to determine how they fare in several crucial areas: general education requirements, trends in tuition costs, instructional versus administrative spending, graduation rates, and freshmen retention.

Key findings are:

  • The cost of tuition and fees totals more than 40% of Virginians’ median household income at almost half of the schools studied.
  • At most campuses, spending on administration is rising faster than spending on instruction.
  • Less than half of the 39 Virginia colleges and universities studied graduate a majority of their students in four years, and less than half meet the national average of 57.4% for a six-year graduation.
  • Even as Virginia emphasizes STEM education, over a third of the institutions studied don’t require a single course in college-level math. Not one requires economics.
  • In the state where Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Madison served as college trustees, only two universities out of 39 require a foundational course in American history or government.
  • Only two private and two public institutions graduate over 80% of their students within four years.
  • At most campuses, classrooms are in use far less than the expected 40 hours per week, suggesting inefficiency that will block progress toward educating more students.

The report comes in the wake of a call by Governor Bob McDonnell for significant increases in state appropriations which would make Virginia one of the few states in the nation whose public institutions would not suffer cutbacks. The Governor’s request is designed to address a per-student funding pattern that places Virginia behind many other states in the nation.

The report supports the Governor’s call for higher levels of performance by providing data to guide crucial spending decisions. As the Governor’s initiative moves forward, the report is designed to make priorities like affordable tuition, improved curriculum, including STEM subjects, and more efficient use of resources part of trustees’ agendas.

“Our report shows that the areas of cost effectiveness and student learning—which are hot topics nationally—are ripe for thoughtful attention in Virginia,” said ACTA president Anne Neal. “In too many places, graduation rates are low, administrative bloat is high and tuition is taking an ever larger percentage of family income. It’s vital that Virginia trustees make certain that students are graduating on time and with the knowledge they’ll need to succeed.”

The analysis, the ninth in a series of state reports, was prepared by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni with the support of the Beazley Foundation and other funders.

ACTA is an independent nonprofit, established in 1995, dedicated to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability in American higher education. The Beazley Foundation was established in 1948 and has, since that time, allocated over $75 million toward ensuring a better opportunity for the children of Virginia through higher education.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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