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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Senate Education and Health embraces charter status

Senate Education and Health offered its unanimous approval of SB1327S1. This bill, commonly known as the "charter" bill, gives universities operational flexibility, as well as the ability to raise tuition.

The backroom compromises on this were substantial, and it was endorsed by all sixteen university presidents. The bill is 82 pages long, but the RT-D gives a good explanation.
The bill requires all public universities to develop six-year academic, enrollment and financial plans that meet state goals in those areas. The plans, which would include expected tuition rates, would require General Assembly approval.

It also establishes a three-tier system of autonomy. All universities would be eligible for the first level, which would provide more flexibility in purchasing, personnel and construction. The second and third levels allow increasing degrees of autonomy for schools that meet certain criteria, including at least a AA-minus bond rating for schools seeking maximum independence.

Universities at the top tier would operate under a management agreement that would spell out the exact nature of their autonomy. The agreement would have to be signed by the governor or designated Cabinet secretaries and four legislative leaders _ the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Delegates and the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees.
I've been on the fence on this issue for a long time. I have a degree from one state school, and will soon have one from another. I want these schools to be as well-run and well regarded as possible. At the same time, I don't want tuition to get completely out of hand. As the Cato Institute's recent study indicates, colleges are almost incapable of reining in tuition themselves. I want to be able to send baby Addison to a state school in 20 years.

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