Dear Member of the George Mason University Community,
The Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2015 legislative session came to a close last week, and I’m pleased to report that the proposed budget is positive for higher education in general and for George Mason University in particular.
Highlights from the session include increased funding for student financial aid, salary increases for faculty and staff, and a state investment in Mason capital projects.
These encouraging developments are thanks in great part to the efforts of an informed, proud, and vocal Mason Nation, from our Government and Community Relations team to our faculty, staff, alumni, students, and Board of Visitors. All of you helped communicate the value of supporting our academic mission. I spent a significant amount of time in Richmond during the legislative session and every day I encountered someone from the Mason community helping make our case and filling the halls of the State Capitol with Mason green and gold. Thank you!
Before I offer some preliminary analysis of the budget implications for Mason, let me also thank lawmakers for their efforts to prioritize higher education and to restore some of last year’s cuts. In my many meetings in Richmond with General Assembly members before and during the session, I sensed a tremendous pride in our universities and an understanding of the importance of investing in higher education. That commitment was evident during the session.
Our strategic objectives to grow and increase our impact and to drive innovative learning are only possible if we have the resources and facilities to deliver transformative learning experiences to an expanded community. I am thus pleased to report that at a time when state funding for capital projects can be difficult to attain, Virginia lawmakers recognized the need to fund the planning and design of the renovation of Robinson Hall. This comes after the state’s commitment last year to provide resources for the construction of the new health sciences building (commonly referred to, for now, as Academic VII). The General Assembly recognized the importance and value of both projects.
Similarly, our commitment to access makes financial aid for students and families in need a top priority. Thus, among the most important outcomes from the session is an increase in undergraduate need-based financial aid, which will provide additional support to students from working families to go to college and to graduate in a timely manner.
As we work to take the university to a new level, we need to make sure that we are investing in the people who will carry us forward. Therefore, it was positive to see the legislature respond to our request and authorize and partially fund an estimated 2 percent average increase in salary for faculty and staff. The high cost of living in Northern Virginia, coupled with the impossibility to award salary increases last year, made this a top priority for us.
In addition to student financial aid, faculty and staff salary increases, the Robinson Hall funding, and partial restoration of prior budget cuts, a number of key Mason initiatives also received support from the legislature. Among them:
• Planning funds for the repair and upgrade of the campus heating and cooling distribution system.
• New nursing and cybersecurity pathway programs for military personnel and veterans to complete a bachelor’s degree and effectively transition into the work force.
• Additional funding in the modeling and simulation program, which is developing applications in defense, health care, cybersecurity, business, entertainment, and other areas.
• Investment in Lyme disease translational research that aims to bring a new diagnostic tool to market.
Finally, the General Assembly indicated its support for a key element of our strategic plan by directing us to deliver a comprehensive report on the development of an on-line completion college. This is an initiative that can help us expand our impact and better serve our entire student community.
Again, Mason Nation, thank you for all that you do to make our university an exceptional place to learn and grow, produce ideas that make a difference in the world, and enrich the lives of 34,000 students every year.
Fueled by the spirit of the students in our Mason Lobbies effort, our faculty, staff, alumni, and members of our Board of Visitors were able to combine on a true team effort that illustrates what can happen when we all work together to effectively communicate to our state lawmakers the value that Mason creates for Virginia. Mason’s Government and Community Relations team, a constant dogged presence in Richmond, did exceptional work advocating for our needs and assisting members and staff in the General Assembly.
I was pleased to see a great deal of cooperation among all of our universities, not only in budgetary issues, but in equally important legislative areas involving higher education.
All in all, it was an encouraging legislative session. I will report back on the final outcome of the budget as soon as it is approved.