On Wednesday night, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam delivered his third State of the Commonwealth Address to a virtual joint session of the General Assembly, following the theme of “Calling the Commonwealth to action in times of crisis.”
In addition to discussing topics such as the violence at the U.S. Capitol and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he explained proposals to strengthen Virginia higher education – and recognized Marymount University for its efforts to prioritize diversity in enrollment.
“We’ll increase Tuition Assistance Grants (TAG) for students at private institutions to $4,000,” Gov. Northam said. “This helps a wide range of schools like…Marymount University, recently designated as the first Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in Virginia.”
Marymount’s designation as an HSI, announced in late November, reflects a significant enrollment milestone. As defined in Title V of the Higher Education Act, HSI’s are not-for-profit, accredited institutions of higher learning with a full-time equivalent undergraduate student enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.
As determined in Marymount’s annual census, 25.1 percent of its undergraduate students identify as Hispanic, qualifying the University as a HSI for the first time. Across both undergraduate and graduate populations, 20 percent of Marymount students identify as Hispanic.
“Providing a college experience to students from all kinds of backgrounds is a higher calling for us at Marymount,” said Dr. Irma Becerra, President of Marymount University. “Diversity is one of our key core values, and we pride ourselves on opening doors for those who are typically underrepresented at institutions of higher learning.”
Also mentioned in the higher education section of his Address, Gov. Northam’s plan to increase TAG awards for Virginia students would be instrumental in providing much-needed support for private higher education institutions in the Commonwealth. Currently, eligible undergraduate students at private colleges and universities receive an annual award of $3,750. However, this amounts to only four percent of Virginia’s general fund support for higher education, despite private four-year colleges and universities accounting for 39 percent of the Commonwealth’s higher education enrollment at the bachelor’s level and above.
In 2019, President Becerra expressed the need for more TAG funding in order to level education access, in this Viewpoint article published by the Washington Business Journal.
“Increasing the TAG award will allow a more diverse population to have the ability to take advantage of a college education,” she said. “Private colleges and universities serve as the true access institutions of the Commonwealth – almost 70 percent of students attending Virginia’s private institutions come from underrepresented populations, compared to about 55 percent of students at public institutions.”