U.S. News & World Report revolutionized the way people thought about colleges in 1983, when it introduced the first prestigious ranking of its kind. Today, the US News College Ranking is still considered the most important of its kind in the country.
Like all rankings, there are pluses and minuses. Being the most famous doesn’t always equal being the best. Especially when talking about universities and their effectiveness.
According to US News, for example, Virginia has some of the best universities in the country. The University of Virginia ranks 25th on the most prestigious list of the best national university rankings. William & Mary comes in at number 38.
Washington and Lee rank 11th among national liberal arts colleges. And James Madison, Christopher Newport, Longwood and Mary Washington all rank in the top 20 at regional universities in the South.
But who is benefiting from these elite ivory towers of learning? That is the question that the 2021 State of the Commonwealth Report, prepared by Old Dominion University last December, sought to answer.
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This is an important question, because a person with a university degree has more job opportunities, earns a significantly higher income than non-university-educated individuals, and enjoys a deep, strong professional network that connects our As is inevitable in a dynamic economy. ,
What this report makes clear is that Virginia’s universities are largely denying access to those who need it most: students whose families make up less than 20% of the household income nationally, who need $ 30,000 per annum is defined as.
Instead, our colleges and universities are serving the wealthiest people in the Commonwealth.
At a major state university, for example, 68.5% of students come from families whose household income is in the top 20% nationally. Only 2.82% come from the bottom 20%.
The numbers are even worse at our local university, Mary Washington. Students whose families are in the top 20% nationally for household income make up 65.29% of the student body. Only 1.27% come from the bottom 20% of households.
The only exceptions to this trend in Virginia are the state’s historically black colleges and universities, and the University of Virginia College of Wise, which all enroll significant numbers of low-income students.
Of course, no single factor has caused this radical distortion of who has the opportunity to earn a four-year degree, but we can safely point to several key issues:
- The cost of education has gone up. For example, between 2009 and 2019, tuition at Christopher Newport University has climbed 55.6%, well above the rise in prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
- The ready availability of student loans has been partly responsible for driving up tuition prices.
- The state government’s reluctance to properly fund colleges is also adding to the cost. As we noted in a May 1 editorial (“Virginia’s Colleges Are Moving in Opposite Directions”), Virginia’s average tuition cost is significantly higher than that of our neighbors. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average in Virginia was $13,413. In North Carolina, it was $7,174; In Maryland it was $9,521; In Tennessee, $9,789; and in West Virginia, $8,016.
- Finally, the cost of “student-life” has gone up. Funds for wellness centers, athletic programs, and high-end dormitories all make life a little easier. But they also come at a heavy cost.
There are too many blemishes to go around, so finger-pointing isn’t going to solve this problem.
The report offers several policy solutions, including: distributing more state funding to universities committed to fighting economic inequality; amending the Virginia Code of laws that guide our colleges and universities to make economic mobility a recognized higher education priority; Compensating university presidents based on how successfully they address economic inequality.
These are all good places to start. But they avoid an even bigger issue.
We must restore people’s confidence in the economic dynamism and role played by higher education in the overall economy of our Commonwealth.
Culture warriors claiming universities are “educating” students with diverse and diverse views are simply wrong. Questioning how many Republican faculty members versus Democratic faculty members are on staff only fuels these endless and toxic wars.
For the greatest number of people, a four-year university degree appears to be the best path to a successful future in our increasingly complex world.
This is the last time we invest in our universities. We should demand that these universities provide equal access to all. Cost should never be a constraint.