Statement on Board of Visitors’ Affordable Excellence Model

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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.

“This Tuition Increase Is An Act Of Economic Violence”

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Below are thoughts shared with us by Charlottesville resident and activist Donna Gasapo. Her comments have been lightly edited.

A lot of what was said during planning meetings yesterday had to do with city residents expressing concern that their voices are only just now being engaged by UVA students because something happened to a UVA student. This kind of brutality has been happening to city/non-UVA folks for a long time. Though they’re really glad to see all of the work that’s being done right now at UVA and hope that the today’s movement will lead to much, much greater involvement by UVA students and faculty in all of the work that has been happening in the community.

During one of yesterday’s meetings, it was announced that there will be a 13% tuition increase for next year (rather than the previously reported 3.9% increase) and the room was suddenly abuzz. There was a reminder that there will be Board of Visitor meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. So I just want to put something out there.

The increase on student tuition isn’t just another isolated issue to deal with. The attack on Martese Johnson outside of Trinity’s last week was an act of physical violence against a black student. These kinds of attacks by law enforcement happen in the area at a much greater frequency. This tuition increase is an act of economic violence against black students. It is yet another tool by the powers that be at UVA to reduce the number of non-white, non-affluent students on Grounds, thereby increasing the number of white, wealthy students.

But while the decrease in the black population at UVA will create certain burdens for students, the burden on the community — particularly the already marginalized — will certainly be greater. An increase in wealthier white students who can afford the increase in tuition will mean a need for more student housing, which will mean an increase in the pushing out of city residents from their homes to make room for that student housing. Which will mean an increase in DSS involvement with black families — because a historical and surefire way to destabilize black communities so as to support a narrative of ‘dangerous’ and ‘unworthy’ is to break up families. This makes it easier to create policies that push those families out of their homes.

An increase of wealthier white students will also mean an increase in the policing of black bodies — on the Corner, on West Main St. where the University is continually encroaching more and more, on the Downtown Mall, which competes with the Corner for student business, etc.

While the eyes of the world are on UVA due to the unacceptable brutality against Martese, it is imperative that these connections remain in focus and that students join up with community members in the fights against the housing authority, against policing of black residents, against the DSS’ racial policies which break up black families and against the gentrification of low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods.

High Tuition/High Aid? More Like Privatization, Exclusion & Higher Costs for All

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.

The Cost of Being Black at UVa

Like many others, we are enraged by the brutal beating of a black UVa student by ABC agents that occurred this past Tuesday. Martese Johnson’s beating at the hands of these law enforcement officials has sparked a campus-wide discussion of the systemic racism that black students face at the University. Many black students have spoken out about the daily micro- and macro-aggressions they face at this University that highlight the intersectionality between race and class.

Institutional oppression is manifested through the University’s continued disinvestment in its low-income students. UVa is often touted as having the best value, yet in reality, UVa bears high cost for low-income students. In August 2013, the Board of Visitors (BOV) decided to make massive changes to the University’s touted AccessUVA program, forcing low-income students to take on thousands of dollars in debt because the Board voted to replace full-grant aid with loans. Year after year, the BOV votes to raise tuition. Over the last 10 years, in-state tuition and fees have increased a whopping 89%, while out-of-state tuition and fees have increased 84% (2004-05 tuition/fees, 2014-15 tuition/fees).

Not only are students crippled with debt, time and time again this institution culturally excludes low-income students through traditions that celebrate white, southern elitism without acknowledging that this university’s multi-billion dollar endowment was accrued from the exploitation of black slaves. The University has historically created an underclass of African Americans that continues to persist to this day.

What message does this send to prospective students? When the cost of attending UVa grows exponentially, this means our state flagship university is becoming a bastion of private privilege, and no longer a public good. The future of our nation depends on the education of students of color, as future demographic trends show we will no longer compose a minority segment of the population. Revolutionizing the education system to be culturally relevant is imperative to ensuring academic achievement and preparation for higher education. In order to ensure our colleges and universities are accessible to these populations, we must conduct a targeted recruitment effort and invest in sustainable, grant-based financial aid programs. The future of our nation’s workforce and economic vitality once again hinges  on the segment of our population that is too often dismissed. In order to grapple with this inevitable reality, we must envision a future that offers a more just and equitable model of higher education.

The University’s current financial aid model breeds the same class warfare that this institution was founded on. We must break away from these traditions that result in the cyclical disenfranchisement of historically marginalized populations. We must critically reconsider our budget priorities: investing in the education of students rather than expensive capital improvement projects and misguided safety initiatives.

The BOV is meeting March 24-25 to discuss long-term financial aid planning and vote on their proposal for a 3.9% increase in base tuition for all undergraduate students. We need to tell the BOV that if they truly believe that black lives matter, they must commit to fully supporting students financially.

BOV Will Vote Next Week On A Tuition Hike of 3.9%

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The Board of Visitors has released documents related to their upcoming meeting Mar. 24 and 25. In the document for the Finance Committee meeting, there is a proposal for yet another tuition hike:

Undergraduate Programs

The 2015-2016 proposal includes a 3.9% increase in base tuition for all undergraduate students, bringing Virginian tuition to $10,892, and non-Virginian tuition to $40,506. 2015- 16 tuition and fees for a Virginian undergraduate will be $13,468, representing an increase of 3.6% or $470. 2015-16 tuition and fees for a non-Virginian undergraduate will be $43,764, representing an increase of 3.7% or $1,580.

The time to act is now. We can’t afford another tuition hike.

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We’re Standing Up To Tuition Hikes and Financial Aid Cuts at UVA – Join Us!

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In the face of incessant tuition hikes and financial aid cuts, many of us have felt powerless.

Year after year, the Board of Visitors (BOV) votes to raise tuition. Over the last 10 years, in-state tuition and fees have increased a whopping 89%, while out-of-state tuition and fees have increased 84% (2004-05 tuition/fees, 2014-15 tuition/fees).

In August 2013, the BOV decided to make massive changes to the University’s touted AccessUVA program, forcing low-income students to take on thousands of dollars in debt.

These continued tuition hikes and financial aid cuts demonstrate that UVA does not prioritize low and middle income students. When we graduate, we face daunting job prospects and crippling debt. Our education is quickly becoming a private good that’s only available to the privileged few.

How long will this continue? We can no longer afford to pay the exorbitant price of attending UVA.

On Mar. 24 and 25, the BOV will be meeting to consider sweeping changes to the University’s tuition and financial aid structures.

We demand that the BOV enact an immediate freeze on tuition and fees. We further demand that the BOV formulate a plan to guarantee debt-free education for everyone who attends the University. Student debt is a crisis that must be solved now, not later. Stand with us and take action.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Call the BOV on Friday, Mar. 20. Visit our “call center” at 4 East Lawn between 11AM and 4PM to call BOV members directly and talk to them about why these issues are important. RSVP to the Facebook event.
  2. Attend the BOV Finance Subcommittee meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 24. At 3PM, we’ll gather outside the Special Collections Library and enter the meeting together. By packing the room, we’ll show the BOV that affordability is a top priority.
  3. Spread the word. Talk to your friends about how debt has affected you and people you know. We need as many students mobilized as possible to show BOV members that we mean business.