Investing in higher education
by Charles Steger '69
The Southern Growth Policies Board recently released a book highlighting 12 universities from across the nation for excellence in technology transfer and economic development programs. We are pleased that Virginia Tech was one of those 12 institutions [see summer 2002 issue, page 4], all of which are compelling examples of society's return on investment in higher education.
Make no mistake: Higher education is an investment. Like any other investment, it yields returns--some easily measurable, some not. Improved earning potential for a college graduate is easy to track and easy to prove. Society and alumni benefit economically. Indirect returns abound. The love of knowledge and interest in the world around us, for one. An educated citizen capable of living in a modern democratic society, for another. The list goes on.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has proposed a very large investment in the future of higher education and, in turn, our citizens and leaders of tomorrow. I speak of the November bond referendum to approve a $900 million investment in Virginia's colleges, universities, and museums. This measure is crucial to preserving and improving the quality of education that we have come to expect from our world-respected colleges and universities.
It also is crucial to our future as a leading university. The bond proceeds will provide $95 million for Virginia Tech in support of more than $150 million in construction projects. While some funds support mundane but essential functions, such as building heating, cooling, and ventilation, or the central steam plant, most are fundamentally linked to the historic strengths or strategic future of the institution. Through the bond proceeds, we will make significant investments in high-technology classrooms, many aspects of the biological sciences, various critical technologies, and the plant sciences. We also will build a much-needed performing arts center. [See page 3 for more details on these projects.]
More than half of you reading this column are Virginia residents. Your support and voice are key to passage. I hope and trust that you will share with friends and colleagues the importance of this ballot measure. For those interested in the intellectual argument, now is an excellent time for the state to use debt financing. Interest rates are at historic lows. The commonwealth's coveted AAA bond rating is as good as it gets.
As you know from my earlier columns, we in higher education are disappointed that the state has been unable to provide adequate base operating funds. However, operational investments are only one side of the equation. Modern leading universities must have the facilities, labs, and classrooms--and they are particularly crucial at a university like Virginia Techin order to adequately prepare our students for careers and lives in the modern world. So state leaders are to be commended for their desire to maintain at least one half of the investment-- in this case, the capital investments. We need your commitment and support for this most important investment in the first decade of the 21st century.
For more details on the upcoming bond referendum, go to www.unirel.vt.edu/bonds.