Virginia gubernatorial candidates discuss higher ed issues with students

Terry McAuliffe (left) and Ken Cuccinelli (right) talked with college students in a Google Hangout hosted by Virginia21 (photo courtesy of Virginia21).
Terry McAuliffe (left) and Ken Cuccinelli (right) talked with college students in a Google Hangout hosted by Virginia21 (photo courtesy of Virginia21).

This year’s gubernatorial candidates took the opportunity to speak with student leaders from across Virginia about higher education issues.

On July 11, candidates spoke with a handful of students in a Google Hangout hosted by Virginia21, a non-profit lobbying group that focuses on higher education issues. The organization’s mission statement is “to educate the leaders of tomorrow by showing them how to make a difference today.”

Candidates fielded questions separately from student leaders at various universities, including George Mason University. Topics discussed ranged from higher education efficiency to the role of Board of Visitors.

“As we all know, student debt is a big issue,” said Jordan Foster, student body president at Mason. “Funding for higher ed has been cut, debt has really skyrocketed. And it really has hurt middle class families. Wealthier families usually have more resources to deal with it. But really middle class families is where the real hit is felt.”

Foster was given the opportunity to ask Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor, about his plans for funding higher education.

“Since our current governor has really worked with us in the past four years and trying to get more real money dedicated to higher ed,” Foster said, “we were just wondering what you want to keep on going with that same progress and what really are your goals when it comes to funding higher ed."

“Well certainly that middle-class squeeze is something that I’m very concerned about,” Cuccinelli replied. “I’m very concerned that we not price higher education out of reach of middle class families. Wealthy families can pay for this. Poorer families are where we target our financial aid, as we should. I think that should be that focus for part of that money, the overwhelming portion of it. But if middle class families can’t afford it, we can’t fund everyone to go.”

Cuccinelli also said that while higher education institutions should focus on efficiency, there was a deeper role that they play in Virginia.

“It isn’t all about return on investment.” Cuccinelli said. “There is an institutional role in our societies that the universities play. And as long as we balance that with trying to be cost-efficient, I think that’s very appropriate.”

Both candidates said they would pay particular attention to who they appoint to Boards of Visitors, and would give more autonomy to the institutions’ governing bodies. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, said that community college leaders have stressed this point to him during the campaign.

“Three out of five of our higher ed students go to a community college,” McAuliffe said. “They need efficiencies.”

McAuliffe also said that he would work to bring an increasingly diverse set of jobs to Virginia to provide employment opportunities for students after they graduate.

“Let’s make sure when our students are graduating that their debt is not so high, that we have jobs in disparate and diverse fields, so that they can really do what they are really passionate about,” McAuliffe said.

Statewide and General Assembly elections will be held on November 5, 2013. The polling location for Mason students on the Fairfax campus is in University Hall.

You can watch the full event here, courtesy of Virginia21:

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