UVa board subcommittee to work on long-range plan for college affordability - The Daily Progress: News

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UVa board subcommittee to work on long-range plan for college affordability

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 7:46 pm

A University of Virginia Board of Visitors subcommittee is scheduled to begin work Friday in Herndon on a long-range plan targeting affordability for students attending the state’s public flagship.

As outlined by Rector George K. Martin at a recent board meeting, the objective is to have a new tuition and financial aid plan to bring to the full board in the fall.

“The main goal is to identify and organize the work and begin to map out how it will be accomplished,” said university spokesman McGregor McCance.

The committee — chaired by hedge fund manager and first-year member John A. Griffin — met earlier this month for a brief brainstorming session. Along with Martin and Griffin, Kevin J. Fay, Victoria D. Harker, Frank B. Atkinson and outgoing member Linwood H. Rose are on the committee.

“There won’t be any conclusions on any major questions at just the second meeting,” McCance said

Griffin did not respond to requests for comment.

Before the committee was formed, several board members — including Vice Rector William H. Goodwin Jr. and former Rector Helen E. Dragas — expressed concerns about a lack of a long-term financial plan, which they said could be driving up tuition.

Goodwin voted to approve tuition increases in April, but said the university is too reactive in its policy, raising tuition rather than finding ways to cut costs.

“Given the circumstances, we have an awful lot of needs that came together during this budget,” said Goodwin, who called into the meeting. “[But] I would like to think next year we will find some solutions to some of the cost drivers pushing us toward these increases.”

UVa’s tuition and fees have nearly doubled in the last 10 years, and the school now is one of the most expensive public institutions for out-of-state students in the country. This partly has been driven by a decrease in state appropriations, which fell about 32 percent, or $51.5 million, from 2007 to 2012, according to the school.

The university offers AccessUVa, the decade-old financial aid program that promises to cover unmet student costs through loans or grants. The board last summer voted to introduce loans into the program, replacing up to $3,500 in annual grants for in-state and up to $7,000 for out-of-state students. The change takes effect in the fall.

School officials have said the skyrocketing cost of AccessUVa forced the move. Institutional costs have roughly quadrupled, from $11.5 million to more than $40 million, since the program was launched in the 2004-05 academic year, according to a UVa website.

Board members are looking for some way to balance these two factors — tuition and financial aid — in a way that keeps the university affordable while meeting its needs.

For example, the administration is preparing to replace a wave of about 300 retiring faculty members, and officials have identified salary increases as a key part of the recruitment drive. Luring top faculty is essential to UVa maintaining its status as an elite public university, officials have said.

After joining Dragas in voting against the most recent tuition increase, outgoing member Marvin W. Gilliam Jr. said the university should begin reining in the expense of AccessUVa before hiking tuition.

“The costs for AccessUVa are rapidly going out of control and have become one of the biggest drivers of the tuition increases we are seeing,” Gilliam said. “I hope the university administration and the BOV will look to make education for in-state students more affordable.”

Gilliam added that UVa might look to Purdue University, which has reined in spending and instituted a two-year tuition freeze.

The finance subcommittee will explore a long-range model that would allow the university to avoid raising tuition every year. Members have tossed around a few ideas in early discussions, including offering different levels of tuition or subsidies to students based on family income.

Board members also are looking closely at the financial model approved by the College of William & Mary, also known as “The William & Mary Promise,” in April 2013. The plan laid out progressive tuition increases over the next five years for incoming students.

But the college also bumped up financial aid and promised to allow students to pay the same rate of tuition over four years; increases only apply to new students, so tuition rates for each student stay flat.

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