Category Archives: Political economy of higher ed

$8 Million a Year for Higher-Ed’s Non-Lobbyist Lobbyists

by James A. Bacon

When Donald J. Finley retired from the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) earlier this year, Virginia’s higher-ed industry lost one of its most effective advocates in Richmond. As Charles Kelley with McGuire Woods Consulting tweeted at the time: “Don is the best example of a true public servant, and he’s undoubtedly the single-most important factor in silently but masterfully making Virginia’s #highered system the powerhouse it has grown into over the last half century.”

The goal of the Council is to support “higher ed investment” in Virginia toward the goal of building a world-class workforce. Last month the organization issued a press release applauding the General Assembly for its “historic vote” that would provide “more than $1 billion in new state funding focused on college affordability and talent development.”

The higher-ed lobby is one of the most powerful in Richmond. Not only can universities mobilize the support of business organizations such as Virginia Chamber of Commerce and call upon powerful alumni for assistance, they field a small army of government relations (GR) employees. By one count, Virginia’s public universities alone account for 50 state employees who are compensated (not counting benefits) $8.6 million a year — not counting paid lobbyists. Continue reading

Virginia’s New Ruling Class: How Exploitation Works in the Real World

Graphic credit: Axios

Medical debt, which comprises 58% of all debt collections in the U.S., is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Between January 2018 and July 2020, hospitals filed tens of thousands of lawsuits and other court against against patients, according to AXIOS, which drew upon Johns Hopkins University data. Until a public outcry compelled them to stop suing patients last year, the two most aggressive debt collectors in the country, by a wide margin, were the VCU Medical Center in Richmond (17,806 court actions) and the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville (7,197 court actions).

What do the VCU and UVa hospitals have in common? Several things. First, both enjoy nonprofit status. Second, both generate significant profits. Third, both are teaching hospitals affiliated with large research universities. Fourth, both universities are governed by self-perpetuating oligarchies accountable to no one, least of all to patients. Fifth, both are incentivized to suck every dime they can out of their customers to fund the thing that confers institutional prestige — medical research. Continue reading