Point-By-Point Refutation Of The Affordable Excellence Model

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A growing number of people — from students, to faculty members, to parents, to legislators — have expressed firm opposition to the disastrous Affordable Excellence model, including Board of Visitors (BOV) members Helen Dragas and Edward Miller.

Despite persistent attempts by some BOV members and the administration to mislead the UVA community and obscure the negative impact of the new model, the story is becoming clear: we face yet another crisis in governance at UVA.

Here is a point-by-point refutation of the Affordable Excellence model:

Point 1: The Affordable Excellence model “will make a UVA education more affordable for 70% of Virginia families.” (Statement from Pres. Sullivan)

The 70% statistic does not describe students currently attending UVA —  it applies to the general population of Virginia In other words, 70% of Virginia households have an annual income of less than $100,000. The UVA population does not reflect households across the state or country. In fact, the average UVA household income is two to three times that of the average national household income.

This statistic also obscures the fact that only 13% of UVA students are Pell grant recipients. As the New America Foundation said in a recent report describing high tuition/high aid models, “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.”

Point 2: The Affordable Excellence model will enable UVA to “make only moderate increases tied to inflation each year, both for in-state and out-of-state students.” (Statement from Pres. Sullivan)

“Moderate increases” means the Board of Visitors is anticipating that they will raise tuition by 2.5% (predicted inflation) plus 1% each year for the next several years. That’s a minimum 3.5% annual increase (see slide 10). And remember: these increases are compounded each year. After the second $1,000 step increase kicks in for Affordable Excellence for the class of 2020, tuition and fees for in-state students will be close to $16,000. It will only be a few years before tuition and fees hits $20,000 — with no end in sight.

Point 3: The Affordable Excellence model will ensure tuition predictability. (Finance Subcommittee, Slide 10)

True, for those who can pay. UVA states that tuition guarantees are available for students at a “reasonable premium” (slide 10). Wealthy students who are able to afford the premium will have a fixed price for four years, but what about the rest of us?

Also, this premium doesn’t cover all schools. If you enroll in UVA and decide to transfer to Batten, let’s hope they don’t jack up tuition 38% like they did in March.

Point 4: The Affordable Excellence model will increase socioeconomic diversity. (VP Marcus Martin)

False. Sticker shock is a huge factor in students’ decision to attend college and which college they will attend. If tuition keeps going up, it will deter more and more low and middle-income students from applying to UVA. Students don’t want to go to a school where high tuition is a given but financial aid isn’t. As we saw with the massive cuts to AccessUVA in 2013, aid can be eroded at the whims of the BOV.

At the University of Michigan, a high tuition/high aid model was implemented and low-income enrollment plummeted while wealthy enrollment skyrocketed. The same happened at Miami University of Ohio. Higher ed expert Thomas Kane estimates that each $1,000 increase in tuition decreases the attendance rate of low income students by an estimated 5.2 percentage points more than middle-income and wealthy students.

Point 5: An endowment of $1 billion will fund the current level of grant aid to low-income students. (Finance Subcommittee, Slide 11)

This endowment has not been established. And if the BOV plans to raise that much money, why wouldn’t they apply it to lowering the cost of attendance (or even making UVA free)? High tuition/high aid is an arms race where the ‘aid’ component will never be able to keep up.

Because UVA invests its endowment in the stock market, the next economic crash could cause UVA to cut any aid it would have provided. This was one of the BOV’s stated reasons for cutting AccessUVA in 2013.

Point 6: The Affordable Excellence model will work because UVA has need-blind admissions and meets 100% of financial need. (Affordable Excellence Website)

False. Because the theory behind Affordable Excellence is that wealthy students will foot the bill for increased aid, that means aid is dependent on having a consistent number of wealthy students in attendance. If fewer wealthy students enroll, aid will dry up.

And though UVA does technically meet 100% of need, it meets a significant amount of this need with loans. Allowing students to accrue thousands of dollars in debt is not “meeting need.”

In conclusion:

Increasing affordability and decreasing debt is an admirable goal. However, the mechanism that the BOV has established to reach that goal does not work. Rather than further pursue a failed policy, the BOV could increase affordability for everyone by lowering tuition. It’s that simple.

Here’s what needs to happen to increase affordability:

  • UVA needs to lower tuition. Period.
  • UVA needs to reprioritize its budget, putting affordability and quality education first. This means swanky new dorms, private jets and bloated administrator salaries have to go.
  • The Virginia General Assembly needs to allocate more funding to higher education. Students and families need a commitment from the state.
  • The Virginia General Assembly needs to close tax loopholes for corporations. Virginia has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country — it hasn’t been raised in 43 years. This money could be applied to higher education.
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