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Robert R. Lindgren and Tiffany M. Franks column: Governor, General Assembly should direct ARPA money to higher education
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American Rescue Plan Act

Robert R. Lindgren and Tiffany M. Franks column: Governor, General Assembly should direct ARPA money to higher education

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By Robert R. Lindgren and Tiffany M. Franks

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law in March and will provide $4.3 billion to the commonwealth of Virginia in direct aid.

Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly will collaborate on how to strategically appropriate these billions to state and local governments, education systems, businesses, nonprofit organizations and citizens to aid in our ongoing economic recovery.

Virginia’s institutions of higher education, including public and nonprofit private colleges and universities, should be among the highest priorities to receive ARPA funds.

Among the finest jewels in Virginia’s crown are our two- and four-year public and private colleges and universities. All are central not only to an educated citizenry and functioning democracy, but importantly to a talented pipeline of diverse workers — at all skill levels and across all regions — who are essential to the commonwealth’s growing and dynamic economy.

Virginia’s public and private nonprofit colleges and universities have a long history of supporting each other. Our students graduate and attend each other’s graduate and professional schools; our faculty collaborate on teaching and research; and we all work closely with local secondary schools, community colleges, and others on educational partnerships and workforce and economic development.

Over the past 18 months, the other significant tie that binds all Virginia colleges and universities — like all citizens, businesses and organizations — has been our struggle with the global pandemic’s enormous interruption to our operations, revenues and missions.

We lead institutions located in very different regions of Virginia. Our students are diverse. Many are first in their families to attend college, and many come from low- to moderate-income households. We have seen firsthand the pandemic’s hardships on those we educate.

We advocate for additional significant federal and state funding support for all Virginia two- and four-year public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, and we do so particularly regarding the governor and General Assembly’s ongoing deliberations on ARPA funds.

All Virginia colleges and universities were fortunate to receive previous federal pandemic-related recovery funds — from both the federal government directly and via the commonwealth as well.

Those dollars were critical as we invested in testing, cleaning, and health and safety equipment to keep our students, faculty and staff safe from COVID-19 infections; modified facilities for safer conditions; invested heavily in distance-learning technology; and provided much- needed supplemental financial aid so that students could remain in school.

As helpful as previous federal funding support was, it still fell well short of covering extraordinary, unexpected costs.

Forty percent of all of Virginia’s students enrolled in four-year colleges and beyond attend one of our more than two dozen private colleges and universities. Our private institutions enroll nearly 150,000 students, with 69% coming from underrepresented populations and 45% receiving Pell Grants.

Two-thirds of our private institutions educate students from households where the average family income is less than $100,000 a year.

With Virginia’s private colleges and universities serving a higher proportion of students from low-income households, we can attest firsthand to the impact that additional significant federal economic recovery funds — appropriated by the commonwealth — will have on some of the hardest-hit students and families.

The governor and General Assembly can’t afford — literally — to not appropriate significant ARPA funds to Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities if we want our economy to remain competitive.

North Carolina’s governor recently proposed appropriating more than $1 billion in ARPA funds to its colleges and universities — including nearly $100 million to support private institutions.

Similarly, Maryland’s governor and legislature are being called on to appropriate substantial ARPA funds to its colleges and universities.

Virginia’s institutions of higher education have had a very challenging year. Our students, faculty and staff have persevered in ways we could not have imagined. And while we were resilient, a toll has been taken. The costs have added up, and we all still are on our heels.

We make a plea — clearly, loudly — for the governor and the General Assembly to appropriate substantial ARPA funds for Virginia’s public and private nonprofit colleges and universities. It’s not only about recovery. It’s even more about investment.

Robert R. Lindgren is president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. Contact him at: rlindgren@rmc.edu

Dr. Tiffany M. Franks is president of Averett University in Danville. Contact her at: tfranks@averett.edu

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