Monday, April 6, 2009

Going Public and Getting Value

By Steven Muller
At the University of Virginia, the sense of history is as strong as the scent of boxwood. Students live and study in buildings designed by Thomas Jefferson. They tote their backpacks past fat white columns that line the walkways he created, duck into the gardens he envisioned and catch glimpses of the mountains he delighted in. Some speak English as a second language and others with a Vuh-ginia drawl, but they all soon learn the vocabulary of this Academical Village. It's "The Grounds," not the campus; "The Lawn," not the quad; "first year," not freshman; and always, "Mr. Jefferson."

Parents will likely have to pony up more, too, but that's nothing new. The average annual growth in total costs at public institutions has outpaced inflation by several percentage points over the past several decades, according to the College Board. Tuition has become a bigger part of the revenue pie as state appropriations have lagged. Don't expect prices to go down or state funding to go up soon, says Paul Lingenfelter, president of the State Higher Education Executive Office. "When times get tough, the path of least resistance is to restrain or even reduce higher-education spending."

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