Higher education cuts likely to spare Va. students

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Students likely will be insulated from $90 million in cuts the McAuliffe administration is seeking this fiscal year and next from Virginia's public colleges and universities. Instead, the state will keep unfilled positions vacant, promote energy conservation, defer maintenance and take other cost-cutting steps.

While no layoffs are expected in the first round of cuts, they can't be ruled out next year when the second round of cuts are made, higher education officials say. Like this year, they total $45 million.

Cuts to financial aid are off the table, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe is discouraging tuition increases.

The cuts are not uniform across the board, but are targeted, depending on an institution's ability to sustain the reductions. The University of Virginia at Wise, for instance, will cut less than 1 percent, while the U.Va. Charlottesville will be expected reduce 6.6 percent of its state support.

The levels mainly reflect an institution's number of out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. The College of William and Mary and U.Va. Charlottesville attract large numbers of non-resident students, and are expected to absorb more cuts.

Conversely, Longwood University and U.Va. Wise have large in-state enrollments, and they face less than $700,000 in cuts combined.

McAuliffe's spokesman said institutions that rely most heavily on the state will be expected to cut less.

Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said the plan recognizes that some "institutions have a greater capacity to make up some of those budget reductions."

Higher education was initially expected to achieve a 5 percent cut in the current fiscal year and a 7 percent cut in the upcoming fiscal cycle. Under an agreement with Republican lawmakers announced Monday, McAuliffe reduced the burden on higher education to 3.3 percent.

The revised plan aims to make up for an $882 million budget shortfall. The state will also dip into its so-called rainy day fund and make cuts to agencies and local governments.

The higher education cuts will be shared by 16 universities and colleges and the state's community college system, which will be expected to trim 2.2 percent at its 23 campuses. The first-year cuts range from a high of $8.1 million at U.Va. Charlottesville to a low of $64,754 at Richard Bland College.

The detailed cuts are due by Friday, and many campuses contacted by The Associated Press were still compiling their lists at midweek.

Generally, however, a review of proposed savings on campuses statewide found few proposals students would notice.

At U.Va. Charlottesville, for instance, energy conservation and a review of vacant positions are being considered, while U.Va. Wise is consolidating office supplies under one vendor.

Virginia Tech will absorb the $6.1 million cuts in its central budget this fiscal year, while the fiscal year 2016 cuts will be through "selective budget reductions."

President Timothy Sands said the cuts are "not insignificant." But he said Virginia Tech has come through tough times before, making cuts yet preserving its "core institutional missions."

In an August memo to higher education presidents and rectors, McAuliffe made it clear that financial aid should be immune from cuts. He also suggested that tuition increases be avoided in both rounds of cuts.

"It is the governor's expectation that mid-year tuition increases for FY 2015 are not used as a strategy," McAuliffe wrote. He added that alternatives to fiscal year 2015 tuition increases should be considered "as students and families continue to face challenging financial pressures as well."

Tuition costs at Virginia's public colleges and universities typically rank among the top 10 percent or 15 percent in the nation.

"At a time when tuition is increasing every year and student debt is on the rise, the governor wants to find a way to deal with these cuts without further burdening students," said his spokesman, Brian Coy.


Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap

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