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State's Under-21 Voters Gaining Steam


Style: How many people are active in Virginia21?

Porell: We have 30,000 members who are students and young professionals across the commonwealth.

Who pays the bills?

We have a number of individual and corporate donors — you can find those on our Web site, [] — who are committed to the future of Virginia.

What's the most significant issue facing your group's members?

Access and affordability to higher education has really been our top concern since we got founded. This past legislative session we did a big push, called the Save 1246 campaign [representing a potential tuition increase of $1,246 per student in the state's public college and community colleges]. Our message was: Unless the state fully funded base adequacy, tuition would increase by $1,246 per student. We had 12,531 students sign a petition and contact their legislator during the session. Ultimately, they put 233 million new dollars into higher ed, which cut that $1,246 deficit by a third.

Virginia is requiring all of its colleges and universities to submit names and Social Security numbers of students to check against sex-offender registries. Some people complain that the law is an invasion of privacy. Where does Virginia21 stand?

We don't have a position on that. I think they're still figuring out how that's going to be handled at the State Council of Higher Education. All our decisions are made by our student leadership committee, which is comprised of the student body presidents at all of our active colleges.

Do you foresee it being a hot topic?

We're certainly going to keep an eye on it. Right now, we're working with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services on a new Office of Campus Law Enforcement that they're opening as the result of a bill that Virginai21 lobbied for in the 2006 [General Assembly] session.

You have Kaine, Bolling and McDonnell all speaking at your conference. What's the one thing you'd most like to hear from them that you haven't heard before?

I think we know Virginia, in order to compete in the 21st-century global economy, is going to have different challenges. Jobs are already being shipped overseas. We see the real answer to this challenge is by funding and supporting our institutions of higher education in order to improve the state workforce and stay competitive.

We'd like to hear more about what the commonwealth is going to be doing to attract graduates to stay in Virginia ... to live, work and raise their families. We're really pleased to have all three of them attending, and I think it's a clear reflection of the ever-increasing involvement of young voters in politics.

Virginia21's Third Annual Conference and Leadership Luncheon, "Virginia 20/20: Focus on the Future," will be held Sept. 28 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The 12:30 p.m. luncheon is open to the public. Free to students attending the conference; others $100 per ticket, sponsorships available. Register at For more information call 513-VA21. S

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