VA Community Colleges Request $286M for Construction

Wed August 17, 2005 - National Edition

NEWPORT NEWS, VA (AP) The number of in-state students in Virginia’s public colleges will increase by more than 56,500 by 2012, with already crowded community colleges seeing most of the growth, according to projections released July 19.

Four-year schools are expected to see an 11 percent increase, or nearly 16,500 additional students, by 2012, according to a study by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

At the community colleges, enrollment is projected to rise 27 percent as more than 40,000 students will seek to enroll in the two-year schools by 2012.

Based on those projections, 172,375 in-state students would be enrolled at four-year schools and 186,555 at community colleges in 2012.

Half of that two-year college growth is expected at Northern Virginia Community College and Tidewater Community College, which are already operating over capacity, said Tod Massa, the council’s policy research director.

Relatively low tuition costs are driving the demand in several regions, Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois said.

“I can send somebody a letter that you’re accepted, but I can’t send someone a letter that I can guarantee that you’ll get the courses you want,” he said in a telephone interview after the council meeting.

The community college system doesn’t have an estimate of what it would cost to add 40,000 students, but Executive Vice Chancellor Karen Petersen said $286 million was requested for new construction to serve enrollment increases over the next two years.

“Currently we have a shortfall of 360,000 square feet of space,” Petersen said in an interview. “Add another 30,000 to 40,000 students —that starts adding to the deficit.”

SCHEV Executive Director Daniel LaVista said that the state’s four-year colleges will likely be able to accommodate student growth, but their continued ability to do so depends on the General Assembly’s willingness to provide adequate funding.

All 15 state institutions have pledged to increase the number of transfer students they’ll accept, and nearly all (except for Virginia Tech) are expanding their incoming freshman classes, LaVista said.

“While the news is very good with respect to supply and demand, college and university leaders have emphasized to us that in order to continue to meet the needs” of growing enrollment, LaVista said, “they will need more faculty, more space, more ’fill-in-the-blank.’”

Massa also noted that even though universities have projected that they’ll be able to accommodate 14 percent more students by 2012, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have space for students in high-demand, high-cost programs such as nursing and engineering.

Actual enrollment could change, too, depending on factors including colleges’ efforts to boost minority access and overall student retention — both measures of Virginia’s new higher-education restructuring legislation.

The study also found that Virginia’s private colleges have significant space for new students; the institutions are prepared for 11,000 more in-state undergrads between now and 2012.

Massa said projections about out-of-state students aren’t made because they don’t drive state higher-education funding.

Under state law, SCHEV is required to review each public institution’s in-state enrollment targets every two years to help guide the state’s budget planning.

Virginia’s community colleges aren’t required to set enrollment targets because they have open enrollment.

The council will use the report to formulate its estimates of base funding adequacy for Virginia colleges, on which it bases its higher-education budget request for the upcoming General Assembly session.

SCHEV has said that the state’s colleges are underfunded by at least $300 million, despite increased support from the legislature in the current budget.