Letter to the Editor: Campaign Promises Aren’t Necessarily Good Government

University of the Virgin Islands

Opinion: “Enough of the political games – provide strategic and financial transparency, improve secondary education scores, and pay down the millions in GVI accounts payables (which we don’t even know due to a lack of financial transparency), resolve GERS, address high WAPA rates and fix the medical system before asking the people to blindly take on yet another financial obligation.”

Free tuition for Virgin Islands students, beginning in Fall 2019! Surely a freebie that is purely politically motivated; and sadly, not because it is in the best interests of the university, students, potential students and certainly not in the interest of those paying tax into the general fund. The Senate has made the right decision to shelve this until after the election. However, the political gains by governor Mapp and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Bryan have already been scored.

It is also likely Mapp encouraged Dr. Hall to get on-board.

For example, on Sept. 11, 2018, when the offer went public, Dr. Hall was asked why this wasn’t done earlier. He replied, “It was a vision of his and others at UVI for quite some time, but it had to be ensured that the institution was receiving enough endowments and other forms of private funding to ease the financial burden on the government.“

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According to the university’s 2012-2017 “Pathway to Greatness” strategic plan there is absolutely no mention of this vision, goal or free-tuition idea. The closest reference to GVI funding is an objective to increase GVI general fund appropriations to the grand old level achieved in 2009 (strategic plan goal no. 6G).

On Oct. 29, almost two months after the freebie announcement, the UVI Board of Trustees proclaimed the new 2018-2022 strategic plan called “Greatness Through Innovation” (almost one year behind schedule for release – they get an F in my book for being tardy).

What I find troubling is this second announcement is the first time the “free tuition” goal was stated – sort of the strategy catching up to the big announcement in September. What vigor to get this one aspect of the plan out! Hmmm……

The deeper problem is the absence of the actual strategic plan. Why isn’t the plan posted on the UVI website? As a matter of fact, the previous plan mentioned associated costs to implement that previous plan at nearly $40 million dollars. What was the outcome of the previous plan? Were goals met? How much money was spent? There are way too many unanswered questions. Again.

Across America It is common practice for public – and private universities to post very specific details of their income statement, cashflow and balance sheet and spending policies. UVI posts but a single page of financials each year – the last one posted in 2017. How much money does the university have on the balance sheet? Why don’t they breakdown details of expenses? What are their spending policies? It is a public university that receives over $25 million in public funds and more in grants and philanthropic support. How much waste and financial mismanagement is there at the university? Can $3 million in spending be cut to bring free tuition now – without further relying on even greater government appropriations?

Bottomline, there is very little financial transparency at UVI, the incremental cost of $3 million they offer can’t be verified, nor trusted. If the university is within $3 million dollars of covering tuition, why not just reduce tuition for all Virgin Island students from $4,410 to $1,000 in cases where scholarships and grants don’t offset student payment? Why doesn’t this happen today? I say it is because there are no political points to be gained. Plain and simple.

Additionally, do the people of the Virgin Islands realize another institution is about to be “taken over” by government/becoming overly dependent on the GVI general fund? Free tuition isn’t free when the GVI must write a check for at least $28 million a year. Have the people not learned from WAPA, GERS and the hospitals? Each of these institutions are owed vast sums of money by the GVI. What happens when the federal disaster grants run dry and revenue into the general fund dips in coming years and the appropriation to UVI must be reduced? Then what?

My second concern is regarding the potential for an influx of students who have nothing to lose by “giving college a try”. We already know that the average SAT score is just 481 for freshmen who have been accepted by UVI. This is out of a range between 400-1600. According to the UVI website, they accepted 98 percent of those who have applied. Last year almost 1,000 students graduated from 12th grade. Current university enrollment is around 3,000 (no. 6C), with 12 percent or 360 undergraduate, non-resident students being derived outside the territory.

It stands to reason that the free offer will increase enrollment. How will this affect the current professor to student ratio of 12:1? Can the infrastructure handle these new students? The previous plan required an $18 million investment in building, etc. Has this investment been made? What is the new infrastructure budget/projection/plan?

Dr. Hall stated at the senate hearing that this past year 60 percent of UVI students needed remedial help with studies. It is likely that many new students may have graduated 12th grade more than a year or two earlier and will likely need remedial assistance and may be on the fringe of a 2.0 GPA. Will these new students require professors to slow down classroom teaching? How will this affect current/higher achieving students education opportunity? Are we setting some of these kids up for failure? In 2017 UVI stated a goal (no. 2B), to raise the graduation rate from 36 to 41 percent. Dismal.

Enough of the political games – provide strategic and financial transparency, improve secondary education scores, and pay down the millions in GVI accounts payables (which we don’t even know due to a lack of financial transparency), resolve GERS, address high WAPA rates and fix the medical system before asking the people to blindly take on yet another financial obligation.

Respectively submitted,

Gary Pokorny

Gary Pokorny is the campaign director for the Committee to Elect Soraya Diase Coffelt Governor. His opinion is solely his own and are not intended to represent the opinion of the committee nor the candidates.

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