Alumni and students visit state delegates and senators in Richmond. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University

House of Delegates stalls on bill to cap tuition rates

BUT OTHER LEGISLATION MOVES FORWARD TO PROTECT STUDENT LOANS BORROWERS

By Michael Eberhart, News Editor

A new bill introduced to the Virginia House of Delegates that would cap college tuition rates for four years has stalled in the appropriations committee.

House Bill 351 was introduced in January by Delegate David Reid (D-Ashburn) to limit tuition costs at public universities like Mason to the same rate as the 2017-2018 academic year. Some colleges already offer similar programs for their students. For example, the William & Mary Board of Visitors sets four-year tuition costs for every year, so that incoming students are guaranteed to pay the same rate as seniors that they paid as freshmen. The new bill would work the same way for all public universities in Virginia.

HB 351 would also limit increases to the cost of room and board according to 90 percent or less of the annual consumer price index. These caps would not apply to out-of-state students, but the bill would limit their percentage of total university enrollments to the 2017-2018 rate. If passed, the legislation would be in place at Virginia schools until July 2022.

The bill was approved in the House education committee by a 17-4 vote on Feb. 7, but has since been tabled by the higher education subcommittee for appropriations. This puts the likelihood of a future vote on the legislation in doubt.

However, both houses of the General Assembly did pass related bills this week to deal with rising student loan debt.

SB 394 and HB 1138 would create an Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman to educate students about their rights as borrowers, collect data on common complaints and address other problems and concerns with college debt.

According to the Project on Student Debt by the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success, Virginia students averaged $29,296 in debt after graduation in 2016, ranking twenty-second in the country.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston), passed unanimously after a third reading on Monday, Feb. 12. The House bill was introduced by Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) one day after SB 394, and passed by a 94-5 vote on Feb. 13. Both bills will now go to the opposite chamber for consideration by their respective education committees.

If they become law,  the new office would be created within the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to resolve student debt issues in the Commonwealth. SB 1053, a related bill that would have created a “Borrower’s Bill of Rights” to protect student loan borrowers failed to pass in 2017 on a party-line vote in the House Commerce and Labor Committee. It was also introduced by Sen. Howell.

Photo Courtesy of Mason Creative Services