Virginia Tech Magazine
President's Message
Fall 2009

Bolstering college access by CHARLES W. STEGER '69

As a college graduate, you likely don't need to be convinced of the need for higher education in a modern economy. The majority of Virginians agree; in a recent poll, 75 percent of the commonwealth's citizens supported the need for a college degree--an associate or a bachelor's degree--to succeed in this high-tech world.

Virginia Tech's 12th president, William E. Lavery
Yet there are troubles on the horizon. States generally have disinvested in higher education support during this decade, and they have accelerated such cuts because of the current state of the economy. Countries that once flooded our shores with their best and brightest are now investing in creating their own world-class universities. As China, India, and many other Asian countries expand higher education offerings and research capability in concert with loss of support here at home, America's worldwide dominance of research universities and knowledge creation is at risk. Also, our nation is becoming ever more diverse, and we are seeing growth in demographic sectors in which college-going rates do not parallel those of the majority population.

With state disinvestment, college costs are increasingly borne by students, some of whom cannot afford those costs. The nation will be economically hamstrung if significant portions of its young are handicapped by under-education. Creating opportunity through education and finding ways to fund first-generation college students has been a hallmark of American higher education for decades.

Because of these concerns, I am pleased to see that Virginia's business community is once again leading the way to tackle such issues with the launch of "Grow by Degrees," a bipartisan initiative under the aegis of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. The campaign seeks to boost Virginia's economic recovery and long-term growth by making high-impact investments and supporting innovations in the state's higher education system that will help secure our economic future and create real jobs.

The goals of the campaign are straightforward; it seeks to
• award 70,000 more high-quality degrees over the next 10 years;
• target the new degrees to high-income, high-demand job sectors;
• create cost-efficient new ways to access college degrees;
• expand job-specific training at community colleges;
• increase public-private collaboration on university-based research;
• enhance economic development and workforce initiatives in each region; and
• make college affordable for low- and middle-income students and families.

There is clear evidence of the links between advanced education and a state or nation's economic competitiveness and between knowledge creation--the very product of research universities--and job or company creation. The best jobs go to the best workers. And those workers gravitate to colleges or communities built on innovation or advanced research.

Today's challenges in energy, health care, life sciences, and the environment can be met only with qualified human capital. This is America's competitiveness edge. This is why we must find the will, both in Virginia and nationwide, to restore the loss of state funding and to maintain the affordability of college tuition. We must use the power of private philanthropy to support access to college and to invest in equipment and facilities for institutions of advanced learning.

Whether you are here in Virginia or elsewhere, get involved and speak out on behalf of higher education. Visit to learn more.

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