The state of Virginia is looking to reform higher education in several ways with a spate of new bills that were revealed last week by the administration of Governor Terry McAuliffe, and just like anything else, there may be a fight ahead between lawmakers in order to get those bills passed.
The bills are a bit of a shotgun approach to education reform, tackling several issues at once. One bill would lift the partial ban on granting financial aid to non-traditional students—those who don’t fit the 18-22 demographic and aren’t considered the normal college student, such as working parents who are going back to finish a degree.
According to VA law, in order to get financial aid, a student needs to be someone’s dependent—meaning that many students who are already on their own are left out in the cold when it comes to financial help for school. The new bill would change those requirements, opening the door for a number of non-traditional students to finish—or even start—their college education.
Other bills in the list of proposals would set up all school districts to offer virtual classes, meaning that rural students would now have access to more classes not currently available in their area. Gov. McAuliffe vetoed this idea last year, claiming that allowing students to ‘tap into’ a larger school district for additional courses would take power away from local school boards—a move the governor regarded as potentially unconstitutional. The bill’s sponsor, however, views the proposal differently, saying that keeping any virtual programs in the local school districts (thereby constraining the classes available to whatever the district already offers) would “limit rather than increase” family’s choices. Del. Dickie Bell wants to see a centralized, state-wide virtual program that allows students from all over the state to
While the debate rages on those bills, others may not have so contentious a time in the Virginia legislature. A package of student loan bills is expected as well, one of which will encourage students to graduate college in the standard four years instead of taking time off in the middle, or extending their college time with a 5th year in order to take lighter class loads. While some may question the necessity of such a bill, others see value in the idea of restructuring students’ mindset to not only see college as something to be finished quickly, but also to open doors for shorter programs—such as job certifications and technical programs. Instead of expensive four-year educations requiring large amounts of financial aid, the job programs only take a few months or a year while putting the student in a position to gravitate directly into a skilled career.
The proposed change with the most potential to affect VA student loans is a bill that would require all companies that service student loans, as well as all private student loan lenders, to be licensed by the state of VA. In addition, a new liaison office would be created to bridge the gap between students and the student loan companies.
The bills are expected to be voted on in the next few months.