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The Virginia Plan for Higher Education: Annual Report 2017

The Virginia Plan for Higher Education provides a framework for making the Commonwealth the best-educated state by 2030 through goals, initiatives and measures of progress. The 2017 report highlights and discusses important areas of focus for higher education in the Commonwealth.


Virginia faces a future in which higher education will play an increasingly important role. Virginians will need deeper and broader knowledge and skills to be engaged, productive participants in our evolving Commonwealth and its economy. At the same time, the demographics of the emerging generation are changing, as an increasing share of our youth will come from populations that historically have been underrepresented in both higher education and the highly educated sectors of our workforce. These changes transpire at a time when the cost of attending college has increased beyond the capacity of many Virginians. 

The Virginia Plan for Higher Education is designed to identify trends that the Commonwealth must address if it is to prosper and succeed. Through input by higher-education partners, The Virginia Plan is intended to help guide a vision for Virginia’s future through a common framework. This framework is built on the premise that all partners in higher education must work together to help Virginia, its citizens and its regions. 

The Value of Postsecondary Education

Achieving education beyond high school supports the prosperity of Virginia, its citizens and its regions. An educated population and well-trained workforce increase economic competitiveness, improve the lives of individuals and support community engagement. 

99% of new jobs require more than H.S.
Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce

In addition to needing a postsecondary education to meet current job demands, individuals with an associate degree or greater are 38% more likely to have employer-sponsored health care than those with a high-school diploma. Communities and regions also prosper from higher levels of postsecondary education. Individuals with postsecondary education credentials are more likely to vote in elections and volunteer in their communities. 

Individuals with higher levels of postsecondary education also provide a greater net benefit to taxpayers through increased tax revenues and reduced government expenditures through Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and other services.
Higher levels of education benefit the Commonwealth and its regions through greater tax revenues and lower government expenditures.

Virginia’s objective to be the best-educated state requires the percentage of working-age adults with a postsecondary credential to grow from 51% to 70% by 2030.

While having a well-educated population is beneficial for Virginia, it also is important to ensure that additional credentials align with the talent needs of businesses and that the credentials earned are high-quality. In the coming years, through several state and national projects, Virginia will measure quality and assess how well credentials produced by educational institutions are meeting the demands of employers.

Graphic: Virginia plans to increase the percentage of residents with education after high school from 51% to 70% by 2030.

Virginia ranks sixth compared to other states with 51% of its working-age population with a workforce credential or degree.

Virginia ranks sixth in nation for attainment rate
To achieve this best-educated status, SCHEV estimates that higher-education institutions will need to grant 1.5 million awards by 2030. In 2016-17, Virginia institutions awarded 118,837 certificates and undergraduate and graduate degrees, just 0.9% fewer than the prior year's all-time record. 

Findings and Recommendations

For the Commonwealth to remain economically competitive it must maintain a strong workforce and support the prosperity of its citizens. Virginia has a diverse higher-education system including public and private four- and two-year institutions. Investing in and supporting this system is critical to the competitiveness and growth of Virginia’s individuals, regions and businesses. This includes efforts that focus on attainment of workforce credentials, certificates and associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees to meet employer demand.

While Virginia’s educational-attainment rates rank highly overall, large gaps remain for individuals who are underrepresented, including those who are of minority race/ethnicity, from rural areas of the state, or low-income. 

In addition, Virginia is less competitive nationally (11th-highest) when comparing its attainment rates for its younger population. This is potentially a result of recent net out-migration of workers in the Commonwealth compared and other states that are implementing efforts to improve their educational attainment rates to remain economically competitive. 

Improving in this area will require a shared effort by the institutions, students and families, businesses, the Commonwealth and its regions. 

Each year, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia reviews progress on The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s objectives, goals and measures. The following includes findings and recommendations to help reach Virginia’s best-educated state status. These are organized by The Virginia Plan’s goal areas.

Provide affordable access for all 

Implement a shared commitment to low tuition and fee growth. While Virginia established a funding goal in 2004 of providing 67% of the cost of public higher education for in-state students, it has not been able to meet this commitment. For 2017-18, the estimated share of costs provided by the state is 47% – 20 points below the 2004 goal. Furthermore, a JLARC study of higher education found that increases in non-education-related fees such as those for athletics, transportation and student life significantly impacted the overall costs to students. Lower state funding combined with increases in non-education-related services means that more costs are passed to students and parents in the form of rising tuition and fees.

Keeping tuition and fee growth low requires a shared commitment by the state and institutions to: 

• Increase public investment in higher education. For the past two years, tuition increases at public institutions have been the lowest in 15 years. This is largely due to increased state support to counter years of decline in the state-share goal from 67% to 47%. SCHEV annually provides budget recommendations for consideration and includes estimates based on the funding guidelines established by the state. This year SCHEV’s recommendations include support for basic operations, faculty recruitment and retention, maintenance of new buildings and investments in equipment. 

• Decrease costs at institutions. To address the growth in non-education-related fees, SCHEV also recommends that institutions and the state support a reduction in institutions’ annual increase of non-education-related fees from the current cap of 5% to 3% to reduce overall costs.

• Meet the financial needs of students with less ability to pay: While recent increases in state financial aid have helped close the gaps in financial need for students, the average percentage of need met is only 32% of the estimated cost. Meeting the gaps in need would help increase access and completion for students. SCHEV recommends an increase in state funding to address the growing gap in financial need.

Increase alternative opportunities for students to attain an affordable credential: Not all students will follow a direct path to a bachelor’s degree or are interested in achieving that level of education.

Supporting affordable pathways includes a commitment to: 

•  Improve the efficient use of transfer pathways: A recent JLARC study found that students are not leveraging transfer credits from community colleges to four-year institutions efficiently. In 2018, SCHEV and institutions will work collaboratively to implement improved transfer pathways, as outlined in recent legislation and in alignment with SCHEV priorities. 

•  Provide incentives to leverage transfer through increased funding for the two-year transfer-grant program: SCHEV administers the transfer-grant program, which provides $1,000 annually for eligible students with an associate degree who enroll in high-demand programs (engineering, mathematics, science, teaching and nursing) at a four-year institution. Students attending selected institutions are eligible for an additional $1,000. SCHEV recommends increased funding for this program to improve these pathways.

• Support attainment of workforce credentials in high-demand areas: In 2016, the General Assembly created the New Economy Workforce Credential grant. This program allows students to obtain an industry-based certification at two-thirds of the cost of the program. SCHEV recommends restoring funding for this program to meet employer demand.

Drive partnerships between pre-K-12, institutions, economic development and business. Studies indicate that college and career planning should begin in middle school to help better prepare and align coursework with students’ aspirations. In 2018, SCHEV and institutions will support career and college readiness efforts established through the new high school graduation and school accreditation requirements. 

Increase access and transparency of information to potential students. To help students make more informed decisions on college and transfer options, in 2018, SCHEV will: (1) develop a college-transfer tool so students know what community-college courses will transfer to a four-year institution; (2) facilitate the implementation of uniform financial-aid award letters, so all students know how much of the funds offered are through grants and scholarships versus loans; and (3) develop a student-focused site that provides information on Virginia-specific postsecondary options and the general steps to go to college that students, parents, counselors and college access providers can use. 

Optimize Student Success for Work and Life

Improve quality in higher education to meet student and employer expectations: In 2018, SCHEV will monitor public institutions’ efforts to assess student learning in the core areas of critical thinking, written communication, quantitative reasoning and civic engagement as part of the implementation of the updated state policy on assessing student learning. 

Strengthen regulation of private-sector institutions to increase student protection: In 2018, SCHEV will improve the process of revoking an institution’s certificate to operate for considerations of quality and protection of students and taxpayers through state code or regulation revisions. 

Identify and implement strategies that support student success and completion: Many institutions have identified and implemented student access and success initiatives that support increased completion and lower dropout rates. SCHEV recommends state funding to support strategies at institutions. In addition, in 2018, SCHEV will leverage the newly formed Virginia College Completion team to identify and share state and institution strategies that support increased success rates for students.

Drive Change and Improvement through Innovation and Investment

Support strategies that provide more stability in tuition and fees: In 2018, SCHEV will work with policy makers to implement strategies developed by the Council that allow institutions to minimize tuition increases when limited state funding is available or a state budget cut occurs. This can include:
• Developing an institutional reserve fund.
• Allowing institutions to grow out-of-state student enrollments while maintaining in-state enrollment rates. 
• Committing to a two-year budget to allow for a more stable and predictable planning cycle. 
• Providing institutions with financial benefit commitments established in code as part of restructuring, such as interest on earnings and credit-card rebates.

Foster collaboration and innovation through competitive grants: In 2018, SCHEV will continue to issue competitive grants to institutions through the Fund for Excellence and Innovation that test innovative practices through one-time startup funding. The initial grants supported pathway programs that are expected to save first cohort of students an average of $10,000 per credential received. SCHEV also recommends increased state funding for this program.

Reduce textbook costs for students by offering more courses that use open educational resources: With textbooks costs averaging between $600 and $1,100 per year, efforts to use free or low-cost textbook options can reduce education costs to students. In 2018, SCHEV will continue to support efforts through the Open Education Virginia Advisory Committee, the Virtual Library of Virginia (a multi-institution shared-services model) and other efforts to reduce textbook costs. In addition, SCHEV recently recommended increased funding to the Virtual Library of Virginia to support this effort.

Advance the Economic and Cultural Prosperity of the Commonwealth and its Regions

Support collaborative research, development and commercialization: Virginia’s public and private universities expended more than $1.46 billion in academic research in federal FY2016; however, the Commonwealth’s overall share of national expenditures has declined 4% in the last three years. These declines may affect Virginia’s ability to grow its economy in the coming years. In 2018, SCHEV will continue to provide support to the Virginia Research Investment Fund and Committee and will monitor implementation of the recently issued competitive grants that support research collaboration and commercialization. 

Identify key areas of research opportunity to strategically position Virginia as an economic leader. In 2018, the Virginia Research Investment Council will implement strategies to guide Virginia’s research and innovation efforts. SCHEV recommends increased funding to improve state support in this area.

Increase internships, work-based learning opportunities and support alignment of programs to meet worker shortages in-high demand areas by growing partnerships with institutions, economic development and business: Reported shortages in specific jobs and sectors such as IT and teaching, along with increasing expectations for students to have more work-based learning experiences, require increased efforts by the state and institutions to meet workforce demand. In 2018, SCHEV will support efforts by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Go Virginia and institutions to increase the alignment of education and workplace skills through efforts such as internships and project-based learning opportunities. 

Details on items included in SCHEV’s budget recommendations for the 2018-20 biennium can be found here: Recommendations for the 2018-20 Biennium.

Download the full report: The Virginia Plan Annual Report 2017

© 2017 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
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