Virginia’s Reverse Robin Hood

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell wants to be a reverse-Robin Hood, stealing from the poor to give to the rich and forcing public colleges to obey his terrible ideas. Gov. McDonnell is proposing that public colleges should not be allowed to increase the revenue allocated from tuition funds for financial aid to help the poor. According to McDonnell’s Secretary of Education Laura Fornash, “A lot of middle-income students might be paying tuition increases that go toward [someone else’s] need, but they may not be benefiting from that.” Fornash is right. And the solution to that is to increase tuition and allocate more money to financial aid for the middle class. Capping financial aid is an awful idea.

At a time when the state funding for public colleges in Virginia has dropped by $200 million from 2007 to 2011, it’s absolutely outrageous for the Governor to demand that colleges do anything, let alone require them to reduce aid to poor students. Politicians shouldn’t try to micromanage the budgets of public colleges and dictate what must be spent and where. When those same politicians are slashing public funding for higher education, they have no credibility in a crusade to benefit the wealthy.

The title of the Inside Higher Ed article, “Taking on Robin Hood,” is a complete distortion of reality, because there is no “Robin Hood” stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. All students at public colleges paying in-state tuition are subsidized. At the most expensive college, the University of Virginia, in-state tuition and fees are $11,784, about $25,000 less than the more realistic out-of-state rates.

So the wealthy and middle-class students at the University of Virginia are already subsidized by the state for $100,000 over a four-year education. In fact, the number of poor students at the University of Virginia is so small that any subsidy to them is far outweighed by this basic subsidy to the vast number of middle-class and rich students there.

The University of Virginia, which receives the biggest state subsidies in Virginia, has one of the lowest enrollments of low-income students of any university in America. The best measure of low-income students is the percentage of undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grants. In 2004, only 8.7% of University of Virginia students received Pell Grants, and by 2007 this number fell to 7.3%, a figure lower than any other public university in America and every single private Ivy League university.

The wealthy and middle class already benefit more than the poor from the state’s subsidies to public colleges. Gov. McDonnell, in an attempt to be a pandering politician concerned about rising tuition costs, wants to help the rich by raising the cost of college for students who may be too poor to afford it.


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