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Faculty salaries rising; tuition frozen 2 years

By Ralph Byers, director of government relations

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 24 - March 21, 1996

The 1996 General Assembly adjourned Monday, March 11, concluding a session in which higher education received a good bit of attention and a significant share of the increased funding in the budget.

According to the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (BHEC), approximately $250 million was added to higher education for the biennium. This was short of the BHEC's goal of $435 million, but the actions of the General Assembly represent a strong statement of support for higher education.

The major action in support of higher education was provision of faculty salary increases intended to move institutions back to the 60th percentile of their peer groups. The range of increases is from 4 to 6 percent; Virginia Tech faculty members will receive an average increase of 6 percent on Dec. 1, 1996. Classified staff members will receive a first-year increase of 4.35 percent. For the second year, the General Assembly included increases of 2 percent for the faculty and staff, along with a promise to try to increase these amounts next year once revenues are known. To partially fund these increases, a shift of one payday into the next biennium will be implemented (see accompanying explanation).

Reflecting concern that Virginia has become a very high-tuition state, a two-year freeze on tuition rates for Virginia undergraduates was enacted. Thus funding was provided for the entire amount of salary increases for the first year, instead of the usual practice of sharing these increases between the General Fund and tuition revenues. However, increases for out-of-state undergraduate, graduate, and professional students may be necessary for the second year of the biennium.

For Virginia Tech, $26.3 million in new funding for salaries and operations was provided for the biennium, with almost two-thirds of this amount designated for salary increases. Other significant increases include $2 million in operating funds for technology; $2 million for operations at the agricultural research and Extension centers, $1.6 million for inflation in non-personal services; $1.6 million for enrollment growth; $1.25 million for support for Virginia undergraduates and for faculty positions in Northern Virginia; and $960,000 for operation and maintenance of new facilities. In addition, the university will receive $15 million for the biennium to purchase equipment through the Higher Education Equipment Trust Fund.

In the area of capital outlay, the General Assembly provided $10 million in General Fund support for the new Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center. The total cost of this facility, to be funded from a mix of state, federal, and private funding, will be $25 million. Last year the university received authorization for $500,000 to begin planning for the facility.

Including the new information-technology facility, a total of $61.2 million in capital projects was authorized for the biennium, including $6.8 million in General Fund support for maintenance and authorization for $44.0 million in non-General Fund projects. The major non-General Fund projects include $10 million for a new dormitory as part of the upper-quad conversion plan, $6.5 million for the new athletics facility, $3.9 million in renovations to the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center, and $3 million for emergency roof repairs to Cassell Coliseum.

In addition to the budget, a number of bills were adopted of significance to higher education, along with language in the Appropriations Act which carries the force of law. These are discussed in the accompanying analysis of the General Assembly session. Gov. George Allen now has 30 days to review the actions of the General Assembly and propose modifications or veto provisions with which he disagrees. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 17 to consider Allen's actions.