According to reliable sources, the Board of Visitors will be considering a proposal Tuesday, Mar. 24 that will raise tuition by 27% over the next two years (13% for next year and 14% the following year) and fundamentally change how UVA administers financial aid. This is unprecedented. It is significantly more than the 3.9% hike already on the table.
The proposal, called the “Affordable Excellence Model,” is a high tuition/high aid model that’s neither affordable nor excellent. The plan purports to help low-income students and students of color by boosting financial aid, but it will actually hurt them and make UVA more expensive for everyone.
While a high tuition/high aid model may sound good in theory, in practice it incentivizes universities to admit more wealthy students and fewer low-income students.
We can look to William & Mary as an example of what’s to come.
As Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, put it in a recent ProPublica investigation, high tuition/high aid works like a hospital for the healthy. Schools compete for the healthiest, most lucrative students rather than the students who need aid the most.
In addition, students see exorbitant sticker prices that deter them from applying. They correctly see that high cost coupled with shaky aid is a risky and unsustainable situation.
Low-income students, then, begin to make up less and less of the student body. At the University of Michigan, the percentage of the student body whose family income is under $75,000 a year dropped from 38.5% to 26.5% (a decrease of 12%), while the percentage whose family income is over $200,000 a year rose from 14.8% to 27.6% (an increase of 12.8%) between 1997 and 2010 as a result of this model, according to the Student Union of Michigan.
High tuition/high aid is done by using a method called “financial aid leveraging,” the process of which is described by Maggie McGrath in Forbes:
First, conjure as high a sticker price as possible for tuition. Second, schools plow a lot of that extra money into student amenities, including country-club perks that outwardly justify it–and help with college rankings that reward such largesse. Finally, use your financial aid pile not necessarily to help needier students but rather to offer discounts to lure richer kids who might pay the rest of that inflated tuition price in full.
UVA is already one of the worst public schools in the country for socioeconomic and racial diversity. Only 13% of students are Pell Grant recipients. It’s scary to think about what a high tuition/high aid model would do if implemented here. Would there be any low-income or minority students left?
What’s more, there’s no guarantee that financial aid will be in place indefinitely. As we saw with the AccessUVA cuts of 2013, aid can be eroded whenever the BOV feels like UVA is facing financial strains. And then students are left to grapple with ridiculous tuition prices.
Rather than waste time and money on a high tuition/high aid model, why doesn’t the BOV just consider lowering tuition for everyone? Because that would actually make sense. If UVA can fundraise billions of dollars to maintain the aesthetic integrity of this University, surely it can invest in socioeconomic and racial diversity in a sustainable and equitable manner.
While low and middle-income students face crippling student debt and insecure job prospects upon graduation, the BOV wants to make it even harder for us to make it through college in one piece. Their priority seems to be on privatizing UVA, turning it into a place for the economic elite and making as much money as they can in the process.