The Importance of Strategic Investment
It is rarely noted that Virginia has a history of wise strategic investments in higher
education: funding that is targeted toward particular opportunities rather than spread around
according to formulas. There is a national trend in this direction, as states seek the best possible
returns of their higher education investments.
There are numerous examples of strategic investment in our colleges and universities over
the past decade:
- MAINTENANCE RESERVE
- Targeted toward preventive maintenance, the maintenance
reserve fund is one reason why Virginia's physical
plants are generally in good repair. Since its inception, the fund has provided $188 million
to the institutions. The amount is
inadequate but nonetheless very helpful.
COLLEGE OF INTEGRATED SCIENCES AND TECHNOLOGY
JMU's new college is one of the most exciting
curriculum ventures in American higher education.
The lessons learned at this new college could pave
the way for curriculum reform that yields
the skilled professional of tomorrow: liberally educated and scientifically and
- EQUIPMENT TRUST FUND
Among the many that began around the
time of federal tax reform in 1986, this may be the only debt-based
equipment leasing program that still flourishes in American higher education.
Over a decade, $295 million has been made available for instructional
and research technology and equipment.
- ODU's electronic delivery network is providing services using
methods that are changing American higher education.
The Virginia colleges and universities that are paying attention
will be better prepared when high-volume electronic delivery
networks begin to operate nationally and, of course, here. The
state needs to monitor the progress of TELETECHNET, and
especially whether it
is successful in lowering the costs of instruction, so we can determine how to
invest in the future.
When the state invests strategically in some institutions but not in others, it creates
tension within the system of higher education. This tension can be channeled into productive
competition among the institutions, with each working to produce better ideas. It also could be
channeled into partnerships among institutions and between them and business. This approach is
far preferable to the competition that is inevitable otherwise: the raw political struggle among
institutions for buildings and projects. Political competition, while inevitable to some extent,
guarantees nothing except that money will be spent. Strategic investment, on the other hand, is a
large part of what has made Virginia higher education distinctive in the nation.
- THE VIRTUAL LIBRARY
- VIVA, as it is called, enables us to enter into statewide
contracts for electronic databases that can be installed at
one university and made available to students throughout the
state by means of an electronic network that links the colleges and universities.
Databases that would have cost $12.5 million if bought by individual
institutions have been purchased for statewide use at one-third that cost.
Private institutions recently have received
foundation funding to participate.
We should continue this strategy, but in the future we should invest in collaborative efforts
among institutions and between higher education and other social institutions. I sense that elected
public officials are tired of hearing institutions argue against one another for adequate funding.
That may be why the so-called "unified amendment" that contained all the institutions' needs in
one package was well received in 1996.
Future strategic investment is more likely to pay off when it supports collaborations like
the Microelectronics Consortium, which combines the capacities of six senior institutions and
several community colleges to meet the employment needs of a growing new industry in Virginia.
Another collaborative effort with good potential is the Graduate Physics Consortium, which has
been formed to support the world-class high energy and laser research facilities of the Jefferson
Laboratories. Institutions that can work effectively beyond their own boundaries will flourish in
the years to come.
The Practical Limits of Planning
Twenty Years of Higher Education in Virginia