Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan speaks at the University of Virginia Rotunda in 2017 after being named UVa's next president. He took office Aug. 1, 2018.

In the next decade, the University of Virginia plans to expand financial aid, house half its student body on Grounds and expand adult education opportunities across the state, according to a 10-point draft of its new strategic plan.

The 2030 Plan, which has consumed much of President Jim Ryan’s first year in office, does not yet have a budget or implementation schedule. It grew out of hundreds of outreach events, according to his office, and aims to put UVa on a path to be, per Ryan’s hopes, the No. 1 public university in the country.

“Some of that is banking on the fact that we will have slightly different metrics than we have now,” he said Friday.

Rather than simply chasing a U.S. News & World Report ranking — though UVa touts its No. 3 Best Public National University ranking on its website — Ryan said he expects universities will be evaluated more and more on whether they serve the public, provide long-term value to students and help their communities.

“And if you think about that, you think about how universities will be judged in 2030, which I think will be slightly different than how they are judged now,” Ryan said. “I think they will be judged, in shorthand, by whether they are both great and good.”

UVa’s previous Cornerstone Plan, created by former President Teresa A. Sullivan, included a goal of shoring up AccessUVa, the school’s financial aid program that meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need. Ryan’s plan offers a broader initiative, dubbed SuccessUVa, which, according to the document, “will go even further — significantly expanding our financial aid program to enable more low- and middle-income students to attend the university.”

Ryan said his team hasn’t figured out a monetary goal yet for expanded financial aid, but a program could rely heavily on fundraising from the current capital campaign. He said he hopes to look at it more broadly than tuition assistance — low-income students in particular, he said, miss out on the college experience when they lack money for incidentals, club fees and study abroad trips.

“One thing I would really like us to look at is ensuring that students aren’t precluded from participating in the full life of the university because of financial need,” he said. “I think that’s an area that a lot of universities miss and there’s room for creativity there.”

Study abroad programming also is connected to expanded financial aid, according to Margot Rogers, a senior adviser involved in crafting the strategic plan. The university wants every student to have an international experience before they graduate, which may mean providing more funding to low-income students.

“We are looking at making that possible for students for whom it would otherwise not be possible,” Rogers said.

 

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UVa compares its financial aid program to that of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the only other public university to meet students’ full financial need (though UNC currently offers a loan-free program for low-income students, a plan UVa backed away from in 2014 when it started including limited, subsidized loans in aid packages).

“One of the big challenges at schools like UNC and UVa is making students even aware of what their options are,” said Eric Johnson, a spokesman for UNC’s financial aid office who has advocated for stripping jargon from aid programs.

As UVa and other schools consider ways to cut costs, stabilize tuition and expand aid, Johnson urged clear and honest discussions with low-income students to explore their options and priorities.

“A lot of times, institutions present a rosy picture of what it will be like, with nice stories and lots of pictures on the lawn, and we set those students up for difficulty,” he said.

Beyond affordability, the strategic plan also explores several ways to improve students’ experience at UVa and students’ ability to engage in service.

Ryan hopes to house all first- and second-year students on Grounds and provide ways for upperclassmen to remain connected to their residential communities. The effort isn’t directly aimed at addressing Charlottesville’s affordable housing crisis — though Ryan acknowledged it could help to relieve some pressure on the local apartment market — and instead is intended to create a more cohesive and inclusive student body.

Within weeks of starting their first year, students are forced to start looking for off-Grounds housing for their second year. They often end up siloed and scattered, which Ryan said works against the effort of getting a diverse student body to UVa in the first place.

 “We’re just not taking advantage of all the great work the admissions office does in getting them here,” Ryan said.

The strategic plan also aims to add college completion and certificate options, especially for working adults who want to prepare for new jobs and careers. It highlights the new School of Data Science, at which officials hope to add forms of degrees and certificates for the high-demand field, and UVa’s satellite campuses in Rosslyn and Fairfax, which are expanding business, data science and health care degree and certificate programs.

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Strategic plans came to universities from the business world, and can range from boilerplate mission statements and vague goals to action items that help streamline an organization’s agenda, community relationships and budget.

Every school has to think about its student experience, faculty research and facility and financial planning, said Nick Santilli, senior director of learning strategy for the Society for College and University Planning, an organization that trains university faculty and staff to perform strategic planning.

An effective plan that actually moves the needle requires a firm mission statement and an understanding of your faculty and student culture, Santilli said, pointing to a 2015 survey by the society that found that most respondents who had participated in planning said efforts got bogged down when leaders didn’t understand local culture, didn’t get buy-in and didn’t allocate enough resources.

 “Remember, we don’t want to plan for the status quo — you’re planning to change the status,” Santilli said. “And then how you go about doing that is up to your culture.”

Other strategic initiatives at UVa aim to expand Bicentennial professorships and cluster-hire strategic faculty; organize more programs to federate related centers and programs — such as the recently announced Democracy Institute; and partner with community organizations to address issues identified by the Community Working Group, including wages, health care and a sustainable transportation system.

The plan will be reviewed by the Board of Visitors at its meeting this week. A vote on a final draft of the plan is expected at the board’s retreat in August.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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