Four years after traveling to the campus to roll out his higher education campaign plan, Governor Bob McDonnell today returned to George Mason University to highlight the major advances made in higher education in Virginia over the course of his administration. This includes reform-based investments totaling almost $400 million to reduce the cost and increase access to a top-quality higher education for Virginia students. Through the governor's "Top Jobs of the 21st Century" higher education legislation passed in 2011, Virginia is ahead of its goal to add an additional 100,000 undergraduate (associate and bachelor's) degrees by 2025. Additionally, to date, Virginia colleges have added an additional 14,000 undergraduate slots for Virginia students.
Speaking at George Mason University today, Governor McDonnell remarked, "In 2009 I visited George Mason to announce our bold plans to make higher education both more affordable and accessible during a McDonnell Administration. Today, I'm pleased to return, in our final year in office, to celebrate the bipartisan success we've had in achieving that objective. In 2011, we rolled out a comprehensive higher education reform package that would reign in rising tuition costs at Virginia's colleges and universities, increase access and affordability for our students, place a greater focus on the high demand STEM-H subjects, and reinvest in higher education at the state level. This comprehensive plan, which we called 'Top Jobs of the 21st Century,' was a product of recommendations from the Governor's Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment. Our goal was to increase access and affordability to a top-quality education for Virginia's students so that upon graduation they would be prepared for the jobs of the future. We set an ambitious goal of awarding 100,000 additional degrees in 15 years. To date, we are ahead of this goal, and it is due to the leadership of our world-class universities who have made this a priority. Every Virginia student deserves access to a high-quality education - an education that will prepare them for the top jobs of the 21st century. In Virginia we have one of the best higher education systems in the world, and one that, because of our 'Top Jobs' legislation and work over the last four years to improve our higher education system, will continue to be a front-runner in higher education both nationwide and around the world."
In 2010, the Governor's Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment was formed. The commission laid out a comprehensive plan for the future of higher education in Virginia, which became the basis of the 2011 "Top Jobs for the 21st Century" omnibus bill. Through the bi-partisan support and passage of Virginia's "Top Jobs" legislation a roadmap was provided for achieving the governor's goal of awarding an additional 100,000 undergraduate (associate and bachelor's) degrees by 2025. Virginia is easily on pace to reach the goal of 100,000 cumulative additional degrees awarded by 2025, with having already awarded a cumulative increase of over 9,000 degrees to in-state undergraduates public institutions. This is achieved by increasing enrollment of Virginia students, improving graduation and retention rates, slowing the rising cost of higher education to students and their families, promoting innovation and technology, and assisting students with degree completion through public and private higher education institutions in Virginia. Additionally, the state has placed a greater focus on STEM and health care degrees that are critically important for the high-demand, high-income fields of tomorrow that Virginia employers are seeking for their workforce.
Governor McDonnell worked with the General Assembly and passed legislation in 2010 authorizing college lab schools. It allowed for any higher education institution, public or private, the ability to partner with a local school division to provide an opportunity for elementary and secondary students to experience a college campus while providing a true laboratory environment for aspiring teachers. Planning grants were awarded to spur the development of these lab schools by assisting in the planning of models designed to enhance teacher education training and provide for more flexibility, innovation, and autonomy outside of the traditional classroom. Those grants were awarded to GMU, UVA, Longwood, VSU, JMU, and Emory & Henry.
To encourage dual enrollment, Governor McDonnell passed legislation requiring local school boards to develop written agreement for postsecondary degree attainment with a Virginia community college specifying the pathways for students to complete an associate's degree or a one-year Uniform Certificate from a Virginia community college concurrent with a high school diploma. These students, called Governor's Scholars - high school students who attain an associate degree or one year certificate of General Studies by the time of high school graduation - are recognized with a special medallion commemorated for this purpose. This past spring, approximately 610 high school graduates were recognized with Governor's Medallions. As a result of programs like this, dual enrollment has increased from 3,812 students per year to 26,858 students per year over the past 20 years saving our students both time and money.
Increasing affordability for Virginia students is a pivotal part of the "Top Jobs" legislation. The Higher Education Advisory Council has provided direction and guidance concerning an ongoing funding policy for our higher education institutions. The Committee has also defined low and middle income so the Commonwealth can better understand the incomes of students entering institutions and how resources can be better allocated to ensure access to these students and families.
In an effort to increase affordability, $3 million was included in the 2013 annual budget for the Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG grants), thus increasing the awards from $2,800 to $3,100. This provides greater affordability and access to Virginia's independent colleges and universities. Additionally, The Higher Education Advisory Council has provided direction and guidance concerning an ongoing funding policy for our higher education institutions.
Finally, the state continues to place an emphasis on public-private partnerships, including the 4-Virginia Initiative. The 4-VA Initiative establishes a shared infrastructure that is designed to eventually be offered at all Virginia higher education institutions. Beginning this spring, the first course offering using via Cisco TelePresence was Advanced Chinese and Chinese business language, taught by instructors at George Mason to students at JMU and Virginia Tech.
In July, Forbes released its annual "America's Top Colleges" report, which found the University of Virginia and William and Mary ranking No. 2 and No. 6 for public non-service academy colleges. Virginia Military Institute also ranked among the top public schools at No. 17. The University of Virginia improved 7 positions in the overall rankings to No. 29 this year. While Washington and Lee (No. 21), College of William and Mary (No. 44), Virginia Military Institute (No.87), and the University of Richmond (No.88) all ranked in the nation's top 100. Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Hampden-Sydney College and George Mason University all ranked in the nation's top 200. All together, 22 Virginia schools were included in the "America's Top Colleges" report.
Earlier this week, the Princeton Review's college rankings book was released, which includes its annual "Best Value Colleges for 2013" rankings. Among the 75 best public colleges, the University of Virginia is ranked No. 1 and the College of William and Mary No. 4. Christopher Newport University, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Radford University, and Virginia Tech are also on the list. The University of Richmond is on the list of private colleges.