November 16, 2010 — All indications are that the Governor's Commission on Higher Education will request in December that the state's colleges and universities boost their enrollment. On Monday, the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors seemed inclined to accept the request – provided the state is willing to pay its share.
The board held its quarterly meeting Monday and Tuesday in the Rotunda. The agenda included many informational reports, but few action items.
No votes were taken on enrollment growth, and no specific enrollment targets were set, though U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan floated a proposal to add 1,400 undergraduate and 100 graduate students above current projections, which already call for modest growth, over four or five years.
"As we make our own plans in anticipation of the commission's recommendations, we are operating on a few assumptions," Sullivan said. "We assume the board will not condone this growth without assurances that we have adequate housing, dining, recreation spaces, need-based financial aid, and faculty and staff to serve the new students and protect the undergraduate experience. Furthermore, we expect the state to provide appropriate funding for the additional Virginia students."
Sullivan said that many of the recommendations under consideration by the commission – for example, enrolling more Virginians; granting more science, technology, engineering and math degrees; enhancing research collaboration among colleges and universities; and better utilizing technology in teaching – "align well with suggestions we have made to the commission about ways in which the University can support the governor's priorities."
Agreeing with Sullivan, board members expressed deep concern that accepting growth without the ironclad guarantees from the state to pay for it could harm the institution.
University Rector John O. Wynne noted that most state legislators did not attend U.Va. and may not value the University's status as a flagship institution of American public higher education. He warned of the consequences of growth without adequate resources: "We will slowly decline. None of us want that."
He added that many state colleges and universities fear that they will be forced to make expensive growth commitments, but later will be stuck looking for ways to pay for them.
Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va.'s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said that the University would likely have the facilities to absorb the additional 1,400 undergrads that Sullivan mentioned. Residence halls are under construction and others are planned; the Observatory Hill dining facility has been upgraded; Newcomb Hall's dining facilities are being expanded; and the opening of Nau and Gibson halls at the South Lawn has freed up faculty office space.
"Doing more than that would be a great deal more difficult," Wynne said.
Sullivan's suggested list of state requests included a return to earlier "base budget adequacy" standards, under which the state committed to a certain guaranteed amount of funding per student; one-time funding for new faculty start-up packages, which can cost as much as $600,000 to outfit lab space for science and engineering faculty; and state funding for Rotunda restoration.
Board member W. Heywood Fralin was more optimistic about the commission's work. He noted that the commission grew from the suggestions of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, and that Gov. Bob McDonnell is the first Virginia governor in decades to focus so strongly on higher education.
He cited the commission's recommendations to boost graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and to foster research collaborations among the state's institutions as potentially being "real positives for the University of Virginia."
"I will predict that when all is said and done, we will feel better about the commission," Fralin said.
Board member L.F. Payne agreed, but noted that many in the local community have expressed misgivings about further University growth. He said there would be a need for "an education process" in the community.
Wynne asked board members to hold Jan. 28 as a possible meeting date for a special meeting to discuss the governor's recommendations and the specific legislation that arises from them.
ESPN Deal Boosts Athletics Budget
Just two years ago, the budget outlook for the Department of Athletics was bleak, Craig Littlepage, director of athletics, told the Student Affairs and Athletics Committee on Tuesday.
Most of the department's revenue sources appeared to be "maxed out," he said. Costs were rising, and the failing economy was taking a bite out of ticket sales and fundraising. The long-term budget outlook included plenty of red ink – a common predicament across most of the nation's Division I athletic programs.
Enter ESPN. A new 12-year, $1.86 billion media rights deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference, reached in May, will provide the University with an average of an additional $6.1 million annually over what the University had received under the previous media rights deal.
The additional money will keep athletics on much firmer financial footing, Littlepage said.
Working closely with Sandridge and Colette Sheehy, U.Va.'s vice president for management and budget, the athletics department has formulated a plan to create operations, facilities and capital projects reserves and establish an operating endowment. Furthermore, the department plans to forego increases in student fees, keeping its share flat at $650 annually through at least the 2016 fiscal year, Littlepage said.
"This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Sandridge said. The situation before the new ESPN deal was reached was "a train wreck waiting to happen," he added.
Infrastructure Projects Could Cost $290 Million Over 10 Years
After an eye-opening presentation on the facilities and resources that heat, cool and power the University, the Buildings and Grounds Committee endorsed up to $289.9 million worth of projects for the University's 2012-22 capital projects list.
Cheryl Gomez, director of energy and utilities, said the projects are necessary to repair or replace existing resources and to accommodate possible future growth.
She listed several examples. The chiller and boiler plant that cools and heats the North Grounds is 35 years old; though a replacement has been in the capital plan for six years, the state has not funded it. About 1,300 feet of steam pipe, mostly serving the Medical Center precinct, is 50 years old and nearing capacity. An aging steam tunnel under the sidewalk between Garrett Hall and the McIntire Amphitheatre – the only route for fire trucks to reach the Lawn in the event of a fire there – cannot fully support the weight of a fire truck.
Each project will need further approvals, and the University will consider alternatives as each comes up, Gomez said. Geothermal heating, for instance, could be part of the energy source for replacing boilers and chillers in the North Grounds area, and the University plans too take a serious look at combining heat and power as a way of addressing its heating, electricity and emergency power needs, as well as its sustainability goals, she said.
One specific infrastructure project received additional approval: concept, design and site guidelines for a new East Chiller Plant on a half-acre site near the Medical Center, a project that will include a realignment of Lee Street. Combined, the projects will cost between $28.2 million and $31.7 million.
Another project that received board approval was the $6 million relocation of the Medical Center's helipad. To replace the single pad at ground level, the Health System proposes two rooftop landing pads – safer, because they eliminate potential ground-based obstacles, Sheehy said. The terra firma currently occupied by the helipad is slated for future emergency department expansion.
The committee voted to approve a $5 million to $7 million upgrade of the Lannigan Field track in advance of the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Track and Field Championships, and added a potential $17.2 million expansion of the North Grounds Recreation Center –including new pool facilities – to the capital projects program.
The committee also gave final approval to designs for the 300-seat "thrust" theater, link: http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=13330] in the Drama Building addition and the landscape master plan for the Arts Commons.
Report: Academic Productivity Is Good, But There's Room for Improvement
The University is churning out graduates at an exceptional rate, but other measures of academic productivity show room for improvement, Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., executive vice president and provost, told the Educational Policy Committee.
The University's six-year graduation rate is 93 percent, among the best in the nation. But other measures of academic productivity – including teaching loads, classroom use, lab use, credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing activity, and residential facility use in the summer – are middling, he said.
As an example, the average U.Va. classroom is in use about 36.8 hours per week, the average seating capacity utilized is about 65 percent. The rooms are completely full only about 24 hours per week. While those numbers are within the range of other Virginia colleges and universities, according to figures compiled by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, there are opportunities to get more use from those spaces, Garson said.
In the summer, classrooms and beds receive fairly heavy use, but their allocation between for-credit classes and non-credit instruction (including Upward Bound, the Summer Enrichment Program and the Young Writers Workshop) may need some re-examination.
"I think the conclusion we can draw from this is that we should be trumpeting our graduation rates, particularly for African-American students, but there is capacity for improvement" in the other measures, he said.
Report: Financial Considerations Lead Students Elsewhere
Students who turn down offers of admission to the University most often do so for financial reasons, according to a survey outlined by Valerie Gregory, associate dean of admission, for the Special Committee on Diversity.
The survey of students who accepted and declined admission offers found that the top three reasons for turning down offers were the cost of attendance, insufficient financial aid and the lack of merit scholarships. Other factors included the reputation of the chosen school and U.Va.'s location – either too far away from home or not urban enough, Gregory reported.
Students reported being attracted to the University by its academic reputation, its national rankings in various publications, the availability of desirable programs of study, location and in-state status.
In addition, African-American applicants said they were impressed by the diversity of U.Va.'s student body and its curriculum, particularly its programs in African American Studies and Studies in Women and Gender. Hispanic students said they were motivated to apply by their visits to Grounds.
What turns minority students away? Mostly the same factors listed by students at large, Gregory said, with some smaller additions. About 13 percent of African Americans listed "racial climate" as a reason to turn down an offer, while about 6 percent of Hispanic students said U.Va. is just too big.
Gregory recommended the University do more to push its academic offerings to all students. To attract more minority students, she suggested the University continue to promote the AccessUVa financial-aid program, improve its methods of determining financial aid packages and seek additional merit scholarship opportunities through the U.Va. Alumni Association with funding from alumni and friends.
• Fourth-year students Kelsey Host and Sharon Zanti, leaders in the student-run "Let's Get Grounded" program, [link: ] which seeks to motivate students to intervene in potentially dangerous situations involving their peers, gave a progress report to the Student Affairs and Athletics Committee and received an ovation from board members, several of whom offered their personal support and suggested that the program could become a national model.
• As of the end of September, the University's endowment stood at $4.735 billion, just shy of its $5.1 billion peak before the economic downturn, according to figures presented to the Finance Committee.
• The University's $3 billion capital campaign reached $2.215 billion through Sept. 30, Robert Sweeney, U.Va.'s senior vice president for development and public affairs, told the External Affairs Committee. That represents about 75 percent of the campaign's goal with 85 percent of the time elapsed.