Budget News is Favorable for the VCCS
Budgets unveiled on Feb. 21 from the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are very favorable for the VCCS. Both sides included new funding for access, student completion and success, and continued support for increased financial aid and significant startup funding for our workforce credentials priority (see section below).
The House and Senate each approved their budgets yesterday. The budgets are expected to be on the calendar of the opposite house on Monday, Feb. 29, and conference committee members named. There is talk that the General Assembly may approve the budget, and thus adjourn, a few days earlier than the official ending date of March 12.
Workforce Credentials Legislation Continues Momentum
HB 66 and SB 576 continue to advance. HB 66 was reported yesterday out of Senate Education and Health. SB 576 has been referred to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Both the House and the Senate include funding in their respective budgets to implement the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant legislation which includes a new funding formula to lower the cost to the student and increase the number of individuals receiving industry-certified credentials in Virginia. The House budget contains $12 million over the biennium and the Senate budget includes $13 million to implement the credentials program. The Senate budget also includes an additional $3 million in each year of the biennium in equipment trust fund money, bringing the total available to $5 million each year.
Additional Studies To Be Conducted
A number of bills affecting the Virginia Community College System and public higher education in Virginia will be studied over the upcoming year instead of being approved by the General Assembly.
HB 229(Bell) requires SCHEV to establish a uniform number of credit hours required to earn a bachelor’s degree at any public institution of higher education. The bill also requires SCHEV to develop a lower division curriculum consisting of no more than 60 credit hours that is uniform across all public institutions of higher education. Any student who completes the uniform lower division curriculum at a community college shall earn an associate degree and be permitted to transfer all of the credit hours earned to any public institution of higher education to which the student has been admitted.
HB 400 (Simon) establishes the Virginia Student Loan Refinancing Authority. The Authority will be governed by a 10-member board, for the purpose of developing and implementing a program to assist individuals who incur qualified education loan debt as a Virginia student at an institution of higher education. The students may then receive a loan from the Authority to refinance all or part of his qualified education loans. SCHEV, the Treasury, and the Virginia 529 program will be conducting this study. SB 52 (Howell) is virtually identical to HB 400 and will also be studied.
SCHEV, Treasury, and the Virginia 529 program will also be studying HB 401 (Simon). This bill prohibits anyone from acting as a student loan servicer without first obtaining a license from the State Corporation Commission (SCC) and establishes procedures pertaining to such licenses. Banks and credit unions are exempt from the licensing provisions. The measure also establishes the Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman within the SCC’s Bureau of Financial Institutions. The Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman is required to provide timely assistance to any student loan borrower of any student education loan in the Commonwealth. The Office of the Student Loan Ombudsman is further required to establish and maintain a student loan borrower education course, which shall cover key loan terms, documentation requirements, monthly payment obligations, income-based repayment options, loan forgiveness, and disclosure requirements. The bill has a delayed effective date of October 1, 2016.
The Joint Subcommittee on the Future Competitiveness of Higher Education will be studying HB 662 (Filler-Corn). HB 662 requires the State Council of Higher Education to administer an Open Educational Resources Fund and Program to provide grants on a competitive basis to public institutions of higher education to encourage such institutions to use low-cost or no-cost open educational resources.
SB 402 (Garrett) requires the board of visitors of a four-year public institution of higher education to maintain a ratio of the in-state and out-of-state student population in each incoming freshman class that is not less than 55 percent in-state students. The bill would begin with the freshman class of 2017. The bill also includes the establishment of the Virginia Higher Education Scholarship Fund and Program. The program grants scholarships to the top two percent of graduates from Virginia public high schools and would pay for tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board for eight semesters over five years. The scholarships would pay for tuition, mandatory fees, room, and board for eight semesters over five years.
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