Road to Richmond: Higher Education

Part Four of a week-long series looking at the key issues in the race for Virginia governor.

With his own final exam looming, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds spent part of Thursday meeting with students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

He’s hoping to draw them to his campaign by talking about one of his key issues: college affordability.

“We’re going to make higher education more affordable and more accessible,” Deeds said at a debate earlier this month.

The Democrat is pitching a plan to award 70,000 new college degrees. He also wants to provide more tuition grants and start a new scholarship program that rewards public service.

“Building the smartest workforce in the world is the way we attract the smartest jobs in the world to Virginia,” Deeds said.

It’s a goal Deeds and his opponent, Republican Bob McDonnell agree can be accomplished without raising taxes or tuition.

“We can find room for that in a $75-77 billion, two-year budget,” Deeds said during a debate.

“I intend to, one, make it a priority in the budget and number two, to be able to promote the jobs and economic development that’s going to turn the economy around,” McDonnell said at the same event.

McDonnell’s plan calls for the creation of 100,000 new degrees and a renewed focus on science, math and engineering.

“The bottom line is every college student should graduate from high school either college ready or career ready,” McDonnell told me Thursday at a campaign rally.

He says there’s a direct link between an investment in higher ed and the economy.

“I think there’s a lot more that we can do,” McDonnell said.

Both candidates say it’s possible to increase access without raising taxes or tuition. Deeds and McDonnell claim they can find the money to pay for their plans — estimated to run taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year — in the state budget.

Deeds says he can create “efficiencies” in the state spending plan, freeing up more money for higher education.

McDonnell says his jobs plan will grow the economy and create enough revenue to cover his college initiatives.

This is one of the issues that has not produced a sharp divide between the candidates, nor has it led to strong rhetoric from either man.

But it’s still a hot topic because the state spends billions of dollars each year on higher education and because college students make up a critical voting block both candidates hope to mobilize.

 

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