Financial Aid Changes at UVa Protested by Students


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In August of this year, board members at the University of Virginia decided to made significant changes to its financial aid program, called AccesUVa. According to the University of Virginia, this program accommodated 100% of the demonstrated need of students who fell within the lowest income bracket, or those families who make less than twice the national poverty level ($31,000 for a single parent with a single kid and $47,100 for a family of four in 2013).

Starting in 2014, however, incoming first-year students will not be able to use the program as it was originally instated. UVa board members voted to change the program, citing concerns that it was not sustainable. In 2004, the first year of the program, 24% of undergraduates qualified for aid, and a total of $11.5 million was doled out. By 2012, though, those numbers had jumped to 33% of undergraduates qualifying for aid, and a total of $40.2 million given out. The university believes that this drastic increase of people available for aid stems from the 2008 financial crisis.

Thus, the class of 2018 will share the same experience with most other college attendees of paying for their education with student loans. The new version of AcceesUVa passed by the school allows in-state students to receive a maximum of $14,000 in student loans over 4 years, with out-of-state students receiving $28,000. These numbers reflect the board's decision to decrease the amount of grant-based-aid given to in-state students by $3,500 every year (and $7,000 per year for out-of-state students.)

Students at UVa are not about to let this legislation pass without a fight, though. Voices for AccessUVa, a student-formed group, has been protesting the passage of the new version of AccessUVa. Many students have serious concerns that this will drastically decrease the number of low-income students attending the university, and will also have a negative impact on the school's diversity.

Joseph Williams, a fourth-year student at UVa who was once homeless, released a poignant statement concerning the decrease in financial aid:

“This institution is a public institution. It’s a state institution. It’s here to provide services for the state, to uplift the state, to uplift the people of the state, many of whom are underprivileged, many of whom are African American, many of whom are Latino, many of whom are first-generation college students. And when we take away access to those people, we take away what this mission of our university is really about.”

Perhaps the most intriguing statement came from Hawa Ahmed, a third-year student who fled from Chad in the 1990's. Ahmed stated that “U-Va. should invest in low-income students because we will put the money back into the places that we came from.”

Perhaps more public, state colleges should look into this model of financial aid. If UVa made students sign a contract stating that they would agree to stay in-state and use their talents to bolster their own communities instead of fleeing to locations "more opportunity", then perhaps the university could justify paying students that extra bit of money they need to afford to go to college. Since UVa is a public institution which receives funding from tax dollars and state revenue, this type of contract would make AccessUVa a more sustainable vision. The current generation of student is already saddled with enough student debt, and if UVa can find a way to circumvent adding to that number, perhaps it will keep its position as the 2nd best public institution in the nation.

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