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For all Virginians

Ed Gillespie’s Higher Education Plan for All Virginians:


“In order for Virginia to grow, we need higher education to be more than a degree manufacturer. We need higher education to contribute to economic growth and job creation. To realize our full potential, we must first ensure that higher education is affordable. With commonsense reforms, strong partnerships and clear direction, our higher education institutions will thrive. As governor, I will work to make Virginia “The Opportunity Capital” of the Nation.” – Ed Gillespie


In a Commonwealth blessed with abundant assets, our most valuable resource has always been our people. Ed Gillespie has a specific plan to fully develop the full potential of each individual person through higher education reforms. Ed’s plan will benefit all Virginians and make our Commonwealth a magnet for business investment and job creation.

Workforce development is the lynchpin to dynamic economic growth, and the key to personal opportunity and upward mobility. Perhaps most important, workforce skills drive innovation, and innovation is what will create a future of expanding opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

Without Ed’s initiative, Virginians will continue to witness the downward drift and diminished dreams that will follow if today’s mediocre status quo becomes Virginia’s new normal. Ed is adamant that we will not acquiesce in spite of declining business rankings, an exodus of talented young people and higher paying jobs from our state, and one of the slowest rates of economic growth in the nation.

Virginians have an opportunity during the next four years to lift our sights higher. All of Ed’s substantive policy proposals in this campaign—from education to economic development; from reducing taxes and regulation to giving more Virginians access to the Internet; and so many others—have OPPORTUNITY at their core:

Is it too ambitious to imagine a Virginia that is known nationally and internationally as America’s OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL? Only if we lack the leadership, vision, commitment, and collaboration required to set the goal and achieve it.

Consider the extraordinary assets we bring to this pursuit:

Ed will provide the leadership and vision needed to capitalize on these assets and forge the partnerships that will make Virginia the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL.

And being the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL will help restore Virginia’s standing as the best state for business.

Ed’s plan for higher education opportunity for all Virginians, outlined here, builds on his previous in-depth proposals on K-12 education, small business formation, and good government. Together, these plans provide the vision Virginia needs from its next governor and a practical roadmap for making that vision a reality.


Ed understands that in today’s fast-changing, digital economy, a post-secondary degree or industry-recognized credential is a practical necessity. For the vast majority of Virginians, the opportunity to live independently, make a good living and care for their families will depend on successfully completing some educational or training program beyond high school.

Post-secondary education is becoming more important than ever, it is also becoming more expensive than ever. There are a number of causes and solutions, as outlined below. Realistically, any plan for the future of higher education in Virginia must begin by acknowledging that the weak leadership of the current Administration has led to weak economic growth, declining attractiveness for business investment as reflected in key rankings, and recurring budget shortfalls. A chief consequence of this mediocre status quo is scarce revenues for important public services such as education.

The simple fact is that absent a reversal of the current downward trajectory, there will not be enough public resources to do everything we need and want to do. This is true even when it comes to investments that are crucial for our future, such as education. So we have to do things differently and better. We have to be creative, efficient and collaborative.

That means we need a governor who will create strategic partnerships that bring public and private resources together for maximum impact. Ed’s plan to make Virginia the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL focuses on forging three types of strategic partnerships related to higher education:

  1. A major new business-education partnership focused on workforce development and retention in Virginia.
  2. A new spirit of partnership between the Commonwealth and our colleges on access and affordability for all Virginians.
  3. A consumer-focused partnership between higher education institutions and the students and families they serve.

Partnership Initiative #1:

As governor, Ed will convene the leaders of Virginia’s top business employers, major business organizations representing small and large enterprises, public and private higher education institutions, the State Council on Higher Education and other key stakeholders to craft a consensus plan to make Virginia the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL by establishing the nation’s most wide-ranging and effective partnership between higher education and business.

Engaged leaders with business and education know-how from the public and private sectors will generate many important ideas and strategies, and Ed will encourage development of active, ongoing partnerships that address at least these major priorities:

A policy-focused governor is an absolute prerequisite to convening leaders from business, education, and government to seize these opportunities, and not every governor or gubernatorial candidate has the will or skill to lead in this way. Ed Gillespie has the passion, the plan and the experience to bring the crucial players together, forge a concerted plan of action, and build and brand Virginia as the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL.

Not only is Ed’s vision and leadership crucial for the future of our state’s economy; it is crucial for the future of higher education opportunity in our Commonwealth. Ed’s emphasis on creating wide-ranging partnerships between business and higher education is the only practical path offered by any candidate for remedying the resource shortages that are chronically plaguing higher education institutions and tuition-paying students and parents.

In addition, business collaboration offers other important benefits for our highly ranked higher education system. Business know-how can help higher education institutions bend the cost curve. Business backing can help attract and sustain public and private support for needed investment and reform. Business collaboration with higher education on curriculum, internships, and job opportunities can answer the growing chorus of criticism about the value of a college degree. And the benefits are mutual, as the students who emerge from excellent post-secondary education and training here in Virginia will enter the working world with the workforce to help businesses grow and the ability to think critically, forge consensus, engage productively with colleagues of varied backgrounds, and creatively overcome obstacles to business success.

Of course, many Virginia students are destined for highly successful and productive careers outside the for-profit and not-for-profit business sectors, and our colleges, universities, and community colleges play a vital role in readying students to use their skills in these important pursuits. But Virginia’s pressing challenge today is to get the private sector of our economy growing strongly again, and that means restoring our attractiveness for business investment and job creation. Branding Virginia as the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL — and, more importantly, deserving that reputation—is the key to achieving these goals, and Ed’s vision of close collaboration between business, education, and government is the way to make it happen.

Partnership Initiative #2:

As Governor, Ed will foster a new spirit of partnership among the Commonwealth and its public colleges, universities, and community colleges—a partnership that will help them work together to bend the cost curve and assure affordable access for all qualified Virginians.

Ed understands that part of the genius of Virginia’s standout higher education system—a key reason that our schools produce top results nationally while having one of the nation’s lowest levels of state operating support—lies in the way our colleges, universities and community colleges have grown up entrepreneurially. Unlike centrally planned and managed systems of higher education elsewhere, Virginia’s leaders gave our public colleges considerable latitude to respond to the needs and opportunities of the educational and economic marketplaces in which they found themselves. Motivated by the Jeffersonian ideal and aided by a supportive state government, our public and private higher education institutions pursued varied opportunities, found niches, invested strategically, managed well, and, through their innovative individual choices—much as occurs in the private marketplace—they produced a system that today offers Virginians an unparalleled variety of choices among excellent educational options.

The rest of the nation has taken notice, too, as seen in the constant cascade of top rankings for quality and value. Perhaps most important in light of our Commonwealth’s current economic challenges, the Virginia higher education system has been recognized as a smart investment. The system received top national honors earlier this year from SmartAsset, the personal finance website, which declared our higher education system #1 in the country because of its high graduation rates and high return on investment.

Recent higher education policy initiatives, championed by Republican legislative leaders like incoming House Speaker Kirk Cox, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, with strong support from the business community, have notably strengthened the system. These changes have given the schools increased managerial responsibility, modernized their infrastructure, and, most recently, through the 2011 “Top Jobs Act,” set ambitious goals for increased degree attainment and economic impact.

And, yet there are serious challenges. Tuition and fees have risen rapidly over the past two decades, placing our public institutions among the nation’s most expensive and far outpacing the growth in Virginians’ disposable income. Two recessions since the turn of the century have taken their toll on state funding for higher education, and efforts at the state level to reinvest—supported by the business community and General Assembly leadership—have had limited impact because of the state’s weak economy and frequent budget shortfalls. Increases in student fees, which cannot be explained by the state cutbacks, have varied widely by institution but collectively have risen at unsustainable levels. Just as a hallmark of a well-run business is constant improvement, so must our generally high-performing colleges and universities do a much better job of finding efficiencies, increasing productivity, and bringing their costs in line with the economic realities facing the people they serve.

Preserving individual colleges’ flexibility to manage efficiently and entrepreneurially will remain a high priority for Ed, because that approach has served Virginia extraordinarily well. At the same time, our public colleges receive hundreds of millions in tax dollars for capital and operations and must be accountable to Virginia’s citizens and elected leaders. Making Virginia the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL and achieving our other ambitious educational and economic goals is a shared responsibility of the Commonwealth and its colleges. So, too, is ensuring that no Virginian is left out or left behind because of the cost.

Six key initiatives will define the new spirit of partnership that Ed will create to bend the college cost curve and assure affordable access for all Virginians:

Partnership Initiative #3:

Our Virginia higher education system obviously serves most students well; our schools could not routinely earn high national rankings for quality, value and return on investment unless they provided an excellent educational experience. Yet, students and parents everywhere, including in Virginia, often lack the information they need to make informed choices on such critical issues as what school to attend, what degree or credential programs to pursue, what courses to take, how best to pay for college or other post-secondary training, and, perhaps most important, how to make sure a good job and a happy life are fruits of that investment.

Ed wants our colleges to expand the information and choices available to students and parents as higher education consumers.

This, too, requires a spirit of collaboration. Like partnering with business to make Virginia the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL and partnering with the Commonwealth to ensure affordable access for all Virginians, Ed wants our Virginia colleges, universities and community colleges to partner with parents and students as consumers, expanding their options and arming them with the information they need to make good choices.

Ed’s plan for higher education opportunity for all Virginians includes two primary strategies for expanding consumer service and choice in higher education.

COST, COURSE, AND CAREER CHOICES. Three closely related sets of consumer choices in higher education are to how to pay for college, what to study, and how to use the fruits of that study to access a good job and rewarding career. Ed believes that all three require a more integrated, consumer-oriented approach on Virginia’s campuses.

Affordable alternatives. Providing students and parents with a much wider range of affordable alternatives for paying for college is essential, and equally important is making those funding options easily accessible and fully known to all college consumers.

Student advising and course access. Ed also wants colleges to step up their game when it comes to the student advising process and course availability. For example, providing structured and streamlined courses of study can enhance both affordability and progress toward a degree or credential that leads to a good job. But developing these options is not enough; administrators and faculty advisors also must take the steps necessary to arm students and parents with information about those choices.

Career advice and job placement services. Graduate schools often excel at job placement, but colleges have traditionally placed relatively little emphasis on advising and assisting undergraduate students in landing good jobs. This shortcoming in higher education creates another opportunity for us to stand out as the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL. Virginia can be known not only as the best place in the country to get post-secondary education and training, but also as the place where you get the best customer service in translating that educating and training into employment and earnings. Partnerships between our colleges and businesses on internships and other work-related opportunities, as outlined above, are an essential part of this. Another key part is the career advising and job placement services that students can access on campus and online. As governor, Ed will work with our higher education institutions to become “best in class” in providing these vital services to students.

TRANSPARENCY ON RESULTS AND RETURN. Transparency is a popular word these days, and rightly so. But for transparency to be more than a cliché, it must provide consumers with information that empowers them to make better choices. For college students and their families, that means information about what it will cost to attend a particular institution and what they will have to show for it when study is complete—the results and the return on investment.

Ed’s plan for Results-Focused Funding will tie state funding for higher education more to the specific results promised and delivered by each individual institution. The results emphasized in this funding approach generally are the same results that matter to Virginia students and families when making crucial choices about higher education. This should include:

As governor, Ed will listen to students and parents in determining what consumer information Virginia’s higher education institutions should provide. The State Council of Higher Education will take the lead in implementing the initiative, and Ed will work in partnership with leaders in higher education, business, and state government to forge an effective approach.

Virginia has the opportunity to add “most consumer-friendly” to the many accolades our higher education system receives. It will help cement our reputation as the OPPORTUNITY CAPITAL, and, most important, it will give all Virginians access to the education and employment opportunities that will let them achieve their full potential.


Endorsed By

Farm Bureau
National Right to Life
Richmond Times-Dispatch
National Review
Winchester Star
Bluefield Daily Telegraph