ALEXANDRIA — There were more peaks and valleys in Virginia this week than in the Appalachians.
The cost of college tuition is rising, possibly fueled by the very financial aid that is supposed to make higher education more affordable.
While the price tag for attending a university is going up, math scores statewide are tanking as new standardized testing goals laid waste to student-measured aptitude in the subject.
As fears of the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff” spell doom for the defense industry in Virginia, George Mason University’s Mercatus Center reports that spending on the nation’s military would be cut in 2013 before rising back to nominal levels later.
Another rise seen in the Old Dominion this week comes from the highest number of noncitizens being struck voter rolls ever. Here is the week in review:
Everyone knows it is getting more expensive to attend college, but the “hows” and “whys” of tuition hikes depend on whom you talk to.
Some believe financial aid is one of the driving forces behind the escalating costs.
“Once the government starts to subsidize a good or service, the demand goes up, the price rises and you get more political pressure for the government to subsidize it,” said Gary Wolfram, an economics professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan, one of two institutions in the nation that doesn’t accept a penny of federal aid.
Others argue that less state government funding has pushed tuitions higher.
“The bottom line is that there is no evidence — and certainly no conclusive data — to suggest that federal student aid significantly affects colleges’ prices. None, zero, zip, nada,” wrote Bryan Cook and Terry Hartle, of the American Council on Education in a 2012 essay.
While debate continues, tuition, fees and room and board at Virginia’s colleges and universities have hovered around $20,000 a year.
Even if the federal government cut the defense budget by the proposed 10 percent, spending would increase after 2013.
“It’s a myth to say it’s suddenly going to be recession time for these guys. The industry is not going to go under,” said Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center in Arlington.
“Some contracts could be canceled, but that’s one of the risks of having your entire business revolve around wartime activities. We’re not going to be at war all the time,” she said.
Defense spending is a big component of Virginia’s economy, and 114,000 jobs could be lost in 2014 if the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” cuts go through, according to a report by the National Association of Manufacturers, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
But the Congressional Budget Office estimated that fiscal 2013 funding would, with inflation-adjusted figures, exceed Reagan-era defense spending.
Nevertheless, Gov. Bob McDonnell is urging Congress to steer away from the Fiscal Cliff.
“I think the president needs to lead on this, get Congress back and do something about sequestration,” McDonnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
New criteria on Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams for math may have played a part in this year’s nosedive in student scores on the subject.
The tests, which measure basic skills in subjects, including math, determine school accreditation and could cause students with a low score to fail a subject even if they passed the class it covers.
Reports of scores 40 points lower than the previous year have emerged because of the tougher standardized test.
“I heard of students who were so flummoxed by some of the content of the test that they just proceeded to guess to get it over with. I don’t think this is what anyone had in mind when they established the new math standards,” said Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, which advocates for teachers and school support professionals.
Orange County schools took large hits after recording high pass rates in previous years. Reports this week suggest those schools will see their passing percentages sliced in half.
“There’s a definite statewide trend of drastic cuts and strikingly (lower) results,” said Jim Yurasits, the district’s director of accountability, data and school improvement.
Students will have other opportunities to retest and improve their scores to a passing rate.
In the past three years, the state has expunged 3,025 noncitizen voters from its registered rolls and looks to keep pace this year.
To date so far, the state has removed 895 noncitizens from county voting lists.
Recently passed voter legislation seeks to eliminate voter fraud and outdated rolls, and the McDonnell administration is hoping new state-issued IDs will help that process.
“The State Board of Elections has been working to update their contact lists for all voters to eliminate any issues with voters who are no longer eligible to vote in Virginia elections,” said McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
Despite the record numbers, tea party advocates say they would like to see more effort to remove noncitizen voters from the rolls.
“I’m amazed that the Republicans in this state don’t care more,” Reagan George, founder of the Virginia Voters Alliance said. “The bureaucrats just don’t seem incentivized.”
George said he would like to see tougher checks for photo IDs and citizenship applied at the polls.