In an unprecedented rush vote Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Visitors (BOV) voted to approve a new plan recommended by the Finance Subcommittee that will consist of what a recent Washington Post article called “one of the highest college tuition-and-fee increases in the nation.” The plan, paradoxically termed the Affordable Excellence Model, will significantly raise costs for incoming students.
We abhor the BOV’s lack of transparency and rash unilateral action. Details of the plan were not announced publicly until the Finance Subcommittee meeting began. Despite more than 100 students gathering in opposition outside of the meeting room, the BOV approved the plan with 13 members voting yes, one voting no and one abstaining. This happened at the very same meeting the Affordable Excellence Model was introduced.
Such obfuscation and elitism has no place at a public university. The vast majority of concerned students were not allowed to enter the meeting and observe the discussion. The BOV may have even violated open records law and their own manual in pushing this questionable plan through without posting it publicly before the meeting.
We are tired of our ineffectual leaders on every level — in student organizations, in the administration and on the BOV. UVA Students United members have been engaged in conversations related to financial aid and affordability since June of last year. Most of our inquiries were either ignored or answered in vague terms.
Student Council President-elect Abraham Axler promised to create a student committee on tuition, which he never pulled together. Student BOV member Meg Gould failed to inform the student body about this impending plan even though she was aware of it. Administrators, including VP of Management & Budget Colette Sheehy and Associate VP for Finance Melody Bianchetto stonewalled us and BOV members intentionally misled us about how developed the proposal was.
During the fall semester, we pushed the BOV to establish a public comment period during meetings. That initiative, too, was halted.
High tuition/high aid models like the one the BOV just passed have been tried elsewhere, including at William & Mary and the University of Michigan. The model shifts the burden onto middle-income students to subsidize low-income student enrollment, rather than emphasizing an institutional or state commitment to funding higher education and reducing loan debt.
Eventually, such models actually incentivize schools to favor wealthy students over non-wealthy students. For example, at Michigan, the percentage of the student body whose family income is under $75,000 dropped 12% while wealthy student enrollment increased almost 13% during the ten-year period after the high tuition/high aid model was introduced, according to the Student Union of Michigan.
What’s more, the BOV can erode aid when they want, leaving students saddled with the exorbitant sticker price. We saw this happen in 2013 when the BOV arbitrarily made huge cuts to the AccessUVA program.
The only model that will work for students is one that lowers tuition. Our governing body must work to reprioritize the budget and incorporate constituent input on every decision they make. We face a student debt crisis. UVA needs to make real affordability a priority lest it become a place solely for economic elites.