2021 SESSIONS UPDATE
After a pandemic-driven year of prolonged legislating in 2020, the General Assembly met for only brief regular and special sessions in early 2021, but its actions were strongly supportive of higher education. Legislators responded favorably to a list of investment priorities advocated by business leaders and college presidents.
Significant new investments in higher education had been approved in the 2020 regular session (see summary below) but shortly thereafter had been deferred and/or deleted in response to onset of the pandemic. The 2020 special session (also summarized below) restored a portion of those deferred/deleted investments, and the 2021 sessions generally completed the restoration and went several positive steps farther.
Legislators in early 2021 approved new state general fund support of $258 million for higher education in Fiscal Year 2022 plus a separate appropriation for the state-funded portion of a 5% salary increase for faculty, adjunct faculty, and staff at public colleges and universities. Budget-writers also allocated CARES Act funds to higher education, including $34.5 million for coronavirus testing and $22 million for student financial aid.
Among the specific allocations of the additional $258 million state investment were:
- $73.5 million for operational support, financial aid, or to address COVID-19 impacts and help public colleges and universities maintain affordable access to public colleges and universities.
- $40 million more in funding to further help public colleges and universities address affordability issues as a result of unavoidable cost increases and required spending.
- $47.4 million for specific public college and university initiatives.
- $30 million for undergraduate student aid at public colleges and universities.
- $36.5 million for the Governor’s G3 initiative for community college students.
- $8.5 million for the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) Program, increasing the grant amount to $4,000 for full-time Virginia students attending Virginia private colleges and universities.
- $1.3 million for the Innovative Internship Initiative.
Growth4VA business leaders and grassroots supporters join the college presidents in expressing appreciation to the General Assembly and Governor for this much-needed support and forward-looking investment.
2020 SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY
The General Assembly and the Governor approved more than $114 million in new flexible funding that will help colleges cover operating costs and keep college affordable for Virginia students and their families, many of whom are struggling with economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Business executives with the Virginia Business Higher Education Council played a lead role in advocating for the new investments as part of the ongoing Growth4VA partnership with the Council of Presidents, State Council, and other higher education supporters.
The Governor and General Assembly also preserved investments in technology-related talent development, approved allocations of federal CARES Act funding to colleges and universities, and gave higher education leaders additional tools to manage through the fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic.
2020 REGULAR SESSION SUMMARY
When the General Assembly completed its regular session on March 12, 2020, the first session under new leadership following the 2019 elections, college affordability and talent development emerged again as top priorities for the Commonwealth.
With bipartisan support, the General Assembly adopted a biennial (2020-2022) budget that built on Governor Northam’s initial spending blueprint and included more than $440 million in new higher education investments.
The new investments correspond closely to recommendations advanced by Growth4VA, including these additional appropriations in excess of 2020 base funding levels:
College Affordability and Access
- $63 million for need-based student financial aid at public institutions
- $12 million for tuition assistance grants at private nonprofit colleges
- $71 million for the Governor’s “G-3” community college affordability initiative
- $80 million for in-state undergraduate tuition moderation incentive funding
- $23 million for institution-specific affordability initiatives
Talent Development and Operations
- $30 million for the Tech Talent Investment Program (and restored most funding for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative)
- $3 million for the Innovative Internship Fund and institutional partnership agreements
- $21 million for institution-specific initiatives, including the Online Virginia Network
- $67 million for institution-specific operating support
- $80 million for faculty and staff compensation
The extent of the coronavirus outbreak became apparent soon after the regular session concluded. The Governor and General Assembly responded on April 22, 2020, by suspending most new investments that were included in the 2020-2022 budget, including the lion’s share of new higher education appropriations, until the budget could be reexamined in the special session convening in August.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) issued a statement recommending that the Commonwealth’s elected leaders base the upcoming budget choices on “what will best position Virginia for the transformation ahead—not only what will get Virginians healthy, safe, and back to work, but what will equip them to grow and prosper in a strongly rebounding, more competitive, and more resilient innovation economy here in the Commonwealth.”
The VBHEC statement put forward four key questions that should be considered in the budget process. The answers suggest that continuing to invest in talent development and college affordability will best position Virginia for future recovery, growth, and job opportunities. Read the full statement here.