Virginians’ Views On Higher Education No Longer An Academic Question – Affordable College Tuition
Virginians’ Views On Higher Education No Longer An Academic Question

According to a poll released today by Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @EDU, Virginia voters – in fact, more than 85 percent – believe improving the affordability and accessibility of Virginia’s public colleges and universities would help solve one of the state’s thorniest problems: its sluggish economy.

The poll, conducted January 3-5 by two of America’s most respected public opinion firms that often work on opposite sides of the political aisle, included 600 interviews with registered voters and has a four percent margin of error.

“It’s important to note that unlike a number of polls conducted during recent campaigns, this one focuses on issues and not personalities,” said Neil Newhouse, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. “And what we’ve learned is no matter where they may live or what party label they might choose, voters in Virginia undeniably feel that Virginia’s public colleges are too expensive and that the cost of attending is far too high.”

“When it comes to responsibilities, 78 percent of voters say the boards of our public colleges and universities have an obligation to put the interests of Virginia’s students, their families and taxpayers first,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.

Reinforcing the point, a majority favor lowering the cost of college over funding a ratings and rankings race, and think that administrative desires should rank at the bottom of the list.

“This is the first in-depth look at voters’ views on an issue of critical importance to the state’s economic well-being, which is precisely why we commissioned the poll,” said James V. Koch, president of Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @EDU, former president of Old Dominion University, and author of several highly-respected reports that study the economies of the Commonwealth and Hampton Roads.

More than two-thirds of the state’s voters reject the notion that the state’s four-year public colleges and universities are affordable, and voters overwhelmingly support holding the line on future tuition increases.

“When it comes to economic growth, Virginia has trailed the nation for the last six years. How we change that narrative can’t be viewed in a vacuum, and making higher education affordable can lead to more jobs and improve Virginia’s economic vitality,” Koch said.

“This poll confirms what many of us have thought for years—college costs are out of control and there is a clear link between affordability and the economic success of every Virginia family,” said Helen Dragas, Partners board chair.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of Virginians who’ve told us about the devastation student debt has caused in their lives. This poll offers a clear path forward to create opportunities without adding even more emotional and financial burdens,” she said.

Those interviewed were randomly chosen, yet 66 percent of voters had ties to one of the state’s public colleges or universities. Despite the economic benefits higher education can bring to a particular community, voters from across Virginia part ways with those who set tuition rates.

Instead, a majority of voters believe tuition should be rolled back and that, by a margin of 76 to 20 percent, future increases ought to be tied to changes in the cost of living. To put that in perspective, tuition for Virginia’s public colleges and universities rose by 74 percent over the past ten years, while the cost of living rose by 20 percent.

The poll also reveals that:

  • Voters believe student debt is the top worry of graduates from the Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
  • Virginians do not believe that the state’s public colleges and universities face a funding crisis.
  • By a 60-36 percent margin, voters believe that no more than 25 percent of students at Virginia’s public colleges and universities should be from out-of-state.
  • Transparency should be the order of the day for Virginia’s public colleges and universities.  Voters want public scrutiny and the opportunity to speak at meetings, the disclosure of all spent and unspent funds, and details of budgets released.  Over 80 percent of voters think college presidents should not be exempt from public records laws.
  • 73 percent of voters were upset that one university amassed billions of discretionary dollars while raising tuition by 74 percent. Overwhelmingly, 77 percent of voters believe the money should be spent to lower tuition and make more room for in-state students.

Partners 4 Affordable Excellence @EDU cultivates affordable academic excellence at America’s public research universities. It seeks to transform higher education in the next decade by advocating innovative research and policy, and piloting new tools and structures to support effective, responsible leadership.

To review the poll’s topline results, please click here.

For more information, contact Stephanie Heinatz at 757.713.2199 or

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