Anything But Affordable And Excellent

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As criticism of the Affordable Excellence model has intensified, Rector George Martin and Pres. Teresa Sullivan have kicked their PR machine into high gear. The pair wrote an open letter to the General Assembly pitching the new model. Sullivan sent out a vague, buzzword-packed email to the entire UVA community touting its supposed affordances. And administrators rolled out a slick new explainer website full of smiling faces. All of this obscures the damage this model will do and the outrageous lack of transparency behind its passing.

The BOV’s rushed attempts to approve the model signal that the body was anticipating student outrage. The proposed model was made available to the public during the same meeting it was introduced and voted on. When students tried to voice concerns the next day, they found themselves locked out of a public building and face-to-face with armed law enforcement officers.

Board member John Griffin claims the high tuition/high aid model represents a hybrid plan that maintains UVA’s ‘elite’ status while simultaneously helping low-income students. However, experts have thoroughly debunked the model, showing that it does little to lower the net cost of attendance or increase socioeconomic diversity (see the resources below). In addition, financial aid at UVA has not kept up with skyrocketing tuition, as evidenced by recent AccessUVA cuts. High tuition/high aid just absolves UVA from making a commitment to low-income students by forcing other students to bear the burden.

Indeed, as Chris Newfield writes the following in the blog Remaking the University:

High tuition does not fight inequality — it feeds inequality. High tuition does this by keeping college proportionately more expensive for low-income students — who are disproportionately students of color. Since college is relatively more expensive for them, they are less likely to finish college. High tuition is not worth keeping for its high financial aid. The aid system is a debt system. It makes inequality worse.

Sullivan and others have tried to play with numbers to hide how the new high tuition/high aid model will only serve to further privatize UVA and exclude low-income students. Already, only 13% of UVA’s student body are Pell Grant recipients, one of the lowest rates of any public university in the country. As a recent New America Foundation report notes, “The fact that UVA continues to be one of the least socioeconomically diverse public colleges in the country should serve as a cautionary tale in the debate over the privatization of public higher education.”

We are told that high tuition is necessary and inevitable to fund UVA’s operating costs. State and federal cuts to higher education have contributed to continued increases in tuition. But UVA is to blame as well. UVA doesn’t spend its money well — we’re not getting a better education each year tuition goes up. That money goes to unnecessary, extraneous costs like administrative bloat. A reprioritization of the budget must happen and it must result in lower tuition for all.

There’s a better way forward. It starts with the BOV rolling back their harmful plan. Student debt will only be eliminated when UVA truly prioritizes affordability and lowers tuition. A public university should be a public good. Stop pushing private models on us.

Resources:

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