WASHINGTON, November 30, 2013 — It occurs every fall, like clockwork. As a new round of anxious high school seniors apply to Virginia schools with exceptional GPA’s, abundant extracurricular activities and many honors to their name, and shockingly receive a letter of rejection, a new group of parents ask, “Who exactly is getting into Virginia public schools?”
For many years now, Virginia lawmakers have debated the issue of public schools in the commonwealth accepting students with lower qualifications from students coming from other states who will pay up to three times the tuition as a Virginia resident.
Some legislators have proposed raising out of state tuition rates believing that it could limit the number of out of state applicants, while others prefer the idea of capping the number of out of state residents a public school is allowed to accept.
The universities themselves are against any plan that would limit out of state students and, therefore, additional revenue. The schools that have faced continual budget cuts and reduced federal dollars over the years believe that they need the out of state tuitions to make up for that loss in order to keep the state’s universities some of the best in the nation.
Now the Loudoun board of supervisors are trying to make a 25 percent out of state cap the law.
It is alleged that this move was made by the legislators after a resident with a 4.28 GPA was rejected from University of Virginia.
Virginia’s public universities do accept a higher rate of out of state students than neighboring states. Virginia’s top schools, College of William and Mary, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech reported accepting in state students at rates of 63 percent, 64 percent and 69 percent respectively this past year; percentages lower than any neighboring state.
Similar bills looking to force Virginia schools to cap the number of out of state students accepted have failed in the past. Last year Delegate Timothy Hugo (Fairfax-R) proposed a 25 percent cap bill would have caused the universities to lose $120 million in revenue.
Not only are the schools not interested in reducing their out of state student body, a University of Virginia panel released on September 11 of this year a proposal to make Virginia’s flagship school a private university ending its affiliation with the state, allowing the university to raise tuition and accept the student body from across the country that it would want.
Although the University of Virginia made it clear that this was just one idea of many to be considered and only a preliminary proposal, criticism came to the university quickly with opponents stating that making the school private would go against what Thomas Jefferson’s goal was in creating the university.
Residents of the highly competitive Northern Virginia suburbs believe that not only do they have to compete aggressively with out of state applicants but that they have an additional burden placed upon them in the form of an unspoken northern Virginia quota.
“We all know students from southern Virginia that get into schools that we (Northern Virginia students) don’t. And they don’t have the grades, AP classes or any of the other stuff that we do”, said one Northern Virginia college freshman who is attending an out of state college. “A lot of my friends didn’t even apply to the top Virginia schools because they feel like they don’t stand a chance. Most of my friends ended up at out of state schools this year.”
The University of Virginia disagrees and has released a statement in response to the rumor of the northern Virginia quota stating “U.Va. does not use quotas, nor do we have admission or enrollment targets or goals for high schools, counties, districts, or regions of the state. Applications are reviewed holistically and comprehensively based on merit.”
In a recent article from the Washington Post where the Northern Virginia quota was again questioned, Dave Scarangella the father of the student which motivated the Loudoun lawmakers to propose cap legislation stated that students “either needed to have a plan B or move to Lynchburg.”
Although making an apples to apples comparison is impossible without having all of the applications released for public review, the statistics do give some credence to Scarangella’s claim.
No one argues that a county in northern Virginia such as Fairfax has more over achievers, higher academic standards and opportunities than the southern Virginia community of Lynchburg, but across the board the top Virginia schools took a higher percentage of Lynchburg students than Fairfax students for their freshman class last year.
University of Virginia, College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech accepted Fairfax students at a percentage rate of 41, 45 and 62 respectively and Lynchburg city students at a percentage rate of 50, 55 and 81 respectively.
It is unlikely that this latest proposal to force the Virginia public higher education schools to change their acceptance habits will succeed where others have failed.
It is also unlikely that the battle between Virginia residence and the universities will end as long as these schools accept some of the highest state rates of out of state students while residents pay taxes to support the institutions and the schools state and federal funds continue to be cut.
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