AccessUVA: One year later
However, it’s important to realize that Griffin’s gift is a band-aid at best, and it’s encouraging to see that the group has not ceased operations, though their advocacy has slowed down. First, only $1 million of Griffin’s gift is immediately accessible (and that’s only $500,000/year for four years, pending matching donations). The next $6 million of Griffin and matched monies is going into the AccessUVA endowment. Endowments are great, but they’re also frustrating when you actually need to pay the bills year-to-year.
Second, while every donation matters, an annual scholarship pool of $500,000 would fund only twenty-one Virginia students’ tuition, room, and fees, or nine non-Virginia students’ full costs, or fifty Virginia students’ tuition alone, using 2013-14 prices.
Finally, as the Cavalier Daily has more eloquently stated in an op-ed, reliance on philanthropy puts financial in in the “umbrella of ‘things that alumni pay for,’” which sends a strong message to current and prospective students about the value placed on financial aid over other directly-funded programs and initiatives at the University.
One very positive outcome from AccessUVA cuts and the Griffin challenge donation specifically is the surge of matching campaigns – during #GivingTueHOOSDay in December, donors contributed $11,133, with the first $10,000 matched 2:1 by President Sullivan and an anonymous donor. During last April’s #TJBDAY campaign, the UVA Bookstore contributed 25% of their proceeds on April 10th to AccessUVA in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday; coupled with individual donations, the initiative raised $60,000, matched 1:1 under the Griffin grant for a total of $120,000.
This fall, the first cohort of undergraduates impacted by AccessUVa changes will enter the University. The true impact of financial aid changes won’t be measurable until after the fall 2014 semester is well underway and the UVA Office of Institutional Assessmentreports on the final enrolled class. However, there are arguments to be made about the potential impact AccessUVA changes might have on prospective students.
The average debt nationally for class of 2012 graduates from a public four-year university who took out loans to finance their higher education was $25,500 (and roughly 66% of 2012 graduates took out loans). The change to AccessUVA is setting the loan cap for in-state students much lower than the national average, though the OOS maximum is higher. Looking within Virginia, at our top peer competitor institution, the College of William and Mary, the average debt for 2012 graduates was $24,344 (slightly below average) and for UVA it was $21,591 (below average). The VA overall average is $25,017 – so the proposed $28,000 for OOS students would exceed the average VA indebtedness, the current average UVA indebtedness, and the average indebtedness of our nearest academic in-state competitor. Looking beyond Virginia, our top public school competitors are UC-Berkeley, UCLA, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (based on US News & World Report Rankings).
Here are the average 2012 indebtedness at our peer competitor institutions:
Virginia’s OOS tuition is second-highest in the nation for a public institution – there’s an argument to be made that the high loan amount UVA will ask OOS students to take out could further deter potential students from enrolling when they could attend a comparable Virginia or non-Virginia public institution and accrue less debt.
Is that a problem? A decline in OOS enrollment has a direct, negative impact on UVA’s finances. This year Delegate Hugo in the Virginia House of Delegates proposed increasing the minimum percentage of in-state enrollments at Virginia public higher education institutions to 75%. This proposal resulted in a 2014 fiscal impact statement analyzing the impact of that policy on public universities in Virginia. UVA currently enrolls below the proposed in-state quota – only 66.9% of students enrolled in fall 2013 are in-state students. If UVa had to increase that percentage to 75%, the fiscal impact statement estimated that would require a 44% increase in out-of-state tuition for the remaining OOS students in order to offset the $35,889,353 in tuition lost from having a lower percentage of OOS students.
Whether the percentage of OOS enrollment decreases by force (HS144) or by market (OOS students opting for lower-loan institutions), the fiscal impact on the institution would be on the same scale/magnitude, having a negative impact on UVA funding as a whole.
Of course, there’s the argument that demand is high enough for OOS spots at UVA that we wouldn’t have to decrease the percentage of OOS students in the overall class, but we’d just have a weaker academic class due to losing top students to less debt-accruing institutions. The early action acceptance rate for OOS students for fall 2014 was 23.5% compared to the higher in-state acceptance rate of 51.1%, indicating high OOS demand. However, a weaker OOS cohort (and, thus, weaker overall first-year cohort) is a bad thing for UVA, which prides itself on being a premier undergraduate institution.
As an AccessUVA recipient, I place a high value on the opportunities an all-grant aid package gave me to try and level the playing field against classmates who came to school with the resources to take unpaid internships and hold out for top offers post-graduation. At the same time, at this point in my life I see the value of loans and understand better the mechanisms and consequences of lending. Loans are an easy way to save the University money and divert direct funds to expand AccessUVA to the often neglected middle-income families; however, we must fully understand the implications of expanding loans. Further, we must work harder to educate incoming students – particularly low-income, first-generation college students – about the loan system to ensure that the changes to AccessUVA do not result in a decrease in the socio-economic diversity to pre-implementation 2006 levels.
 UVA would claim a much lower average loan debt for graduates than the $21,591 from the Project on Student Debt report. UVA would make the claim that we should focus on average need-based loan debt, which was $11,700 for 2012 graduates. However, for consistency and availability of comparison school information I used data from the Project on Student Debt. A valid criticism is that these numbers reflect the average overall indebtedness for comparison schools while the discussion at hand is specifically about OOS students. It requires the assumption that the OOS/in-state ratio is relatively similar across schools impacting the averaging of debts equally. This holds – the UC-Berkeley ratio is 35/65 in/out-of-state, compared to UVA’s roughly 30/70 ratio.
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