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Report: Virginia’s higher education is strong but faces challenges

by User Not Found | Jan 24, 2017

RICHMOND – High school is no longer enough. Increasingly, good jobs require some form of postsecondary education or credential – of the millions of new jobs created since the great recession, 99% required more than a high-school degree, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

To meet demand for a skilled, educated populace, the General Assembly in 2015 approved The Virginia Plan for Higher Education as a statewide strategic plan. Among other aims, The Virginia Plan sets a goal of making Virginia the best-educated state by 2030.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has just released its 2016 Annual Report on The Virginia Plan. The publication details the findings, considerations and work of the first year of implementation of the plan.

“After one year under The Virginia Plan, a clear message is coming through – we need to make sure all Virginians are prepared for the future,” said Peter Blake, director of SCHEV. “Fortunately, Virginia is well-positioned to be the national leader in attainment of higher education. We have world-class institutions and in The Virginia Plan an excellent map to where we need to go.

“At the same time, the Commonwealth faces real challenges in meeting its goals, including our state’s changing demographics and the increasing costs of earning a degree.”

The full 36-page report is available on SCHEV’s website, along with a four-page executive summary. In addition, during the General Assembly session SCHEV is releasing five weekly publications targeting specific areas of focus for higher education in Virginia: value, debt, wages, disparities and prosperity. All will be available at

The 2016 Report on The Virginia Plan for Higher Education presents the following findings:

- At 51%, Virginia ranks sixth overall compared to other states based on the percentage of working-age population (ages 26-64) with a degree or workforce credential. To meet the Commonwealth’s goal, Virginia needs to reach 70%.
But Virginia’s 25-to-34-year-old population ranks 11th nationally in the percentage of those holding an associate degree or greater. This indicates that other states are increasing their focus on improving their education-attainment rates and that the Commonwealth should continue to support access and completion of postsecondary education.
- Virginia’s public and private nonprofit institutions awarded a record 119,934 degrees and certificates in 2015-16, compared to 115,577 in the previous year. (SCHEV does not have student-level data on for-profit institutions’ degree awards.)
Gaps remain in attainment and completion rates for underrepresented populations ― those who are low-income, minority race, age 25 and older, or from areas of the state with low educational attainment rates.
- Affordability of higher education remains a concern. It is impacted by the rising cost of attendance (including tuition and fees and room and board), the level of state support, the availability of state and federal financial aid, and the ability of students and families to contribute to the cost of education.
- Debt continues to grow but remains similar to the national average. Median debt in Virginia remains under $15,000 for an associate degree and $30,000 for a bachelor’s degree. Notably, 59% of associate-degree students and 37% of bachelor’s students graduate with no debt.
- General Assembly and governor support for higher education in the 2016 session resulted in an investment of over $316 million, leading to the lowest tuition increases in 15 years. However, announced budget reductions will make more daunting Virginia’s progress on its higher-education goals.
- Research expenditures have remained flat over the last several years in the Commonwealth as a percentage of total U.S. research expenditures. Continued investments can enhance research through the development of infrastructure among and across institutions.

To meet the goals set out by The Virginia Plan, the report presents the following considerations for policymakers:

- Support programs that increase successful transitions to postsecondary education and increase completion rates by coordinating the development and implementation of programs that align resources from pre-K-12, colleges, universities and other public sources to ensure affordable, efficient and effective pathways for students in all parts of the state.
- Identify funding strategies by seeking legislative changes that support stable and sustainable public funding for higher education such as a constitutional amendment, a dedicated funding source and a revenue-stabilization fund.
- Implement and support greater efficiencies by reviewing and recommending potential initiatives for further restructuring and shared services that enhance institutional and administrative flexibility and improve quality and efficiency.
- Ensure quality in education by collaborating with institutions to measure the quality of undergraduate education, including civic engagement of graduates and relevance to high-demand occupations across regions of the state.
Increase communications to improve public knowledge of the value of higher education by implementing communications strategies through traditional media, social media and other means.
Support research and economic development by implementing a long-term plan that supports recruitment and retention of research faculty, provides matches to federal and private research grants and enhances commercialization of higher-education research.

Additional resources: 
The 2016 Report on The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, an executive summary and weekly informational briefs on specific focus areas are available at


The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is the state’s coordinating agency for higher education. With The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, SCHEV is dedicated to making Virginia the best-educated state by 2030. For more on The Virginia Plan:


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