‘Access’ draws praise
By Dan Heuchert
Alex Stolar is a second-year
Council member from Wilton, Conn. He receives no financial
aid, so he will not benefit directly from the Access UVa financial
aid plan, unveiled Feb. 6.
But Stolar knows he will benefit in other ways.
“Indirectly, it affects me because of the increased quality
of students who will come,” he said. Additionally, the program’s
emphasis on grants and limited loans means students who receive
aid should be able to take advantage of more extra-curricular
opportunities, enriching themselves and the community, he said.
“There are two kinds of learning that go on here, the learning
that goes on in the classroom, and the learning that goes on outside,”
That’s the whole point, said University President
John T. Casteen III in announcing the program: to allow all prospective
students equal access to the University, and to allow them to
make choices about their academic and post-graduation careers
free from worry about debt.
“If you think about students from low-income families and
about the nature of opportunity as they perceive it, to say to
those students, ‘Come to college.
can borrow the money and pay for it later,’ when their family
has never had a positive or constructive experience with debt,
when debt has been a great threat to the family’s survival
or viability, frankly is to promise an opportunity to families
and not provide it,” Casteen said.
The program meets head-on a growing national concern. As states
increasingly back away from their commitments to funding public
higher education — Casteen estimated the total percentage
of state support in U.Va.’s next budget will fall below
7 percent — colleges and universities have been forced to
replace the lost support with increased tuition revenue. In turn,
higher tuition forces some families to take on greater debt, or
limit their college choices; other families may be priced out
of the market altogether.
By limiting debt — or eliminating it altogether, in the
case of the most needy students — Access UVa offers assurances
to prospective students that if they make the grade, they can
afford to attend the University.
“It’s brilliant,” said Student Council President
Daisy Lundy, a third-year student from South Carolina who receives
need-based aid. “It’s a bold, trailblazing step for
Virginia, to make the No. 1 public university in the country available
to anyone who qualifies.”
Details of the plan were circulated among lawmakers in Richmond
prior to the announcement, and received favorable reviews, Casteen
said. “One legislator told me yesterday that this is what
the state should have been doing all along.”
The plan made its public debut during the Board of Visitors Finance
Committee meeting. The board members’ immediate concern
was not how to pay for it, but how to get the word out.
“This is one of our chances to step out front and show what
this institution is all about,” said Thomas A. Saunders.
He and several colleagues urged University administrators to aggressively
market the plan, which begins this fall.
So far, so good: Favorable reports of the plan appeared the next
day in the Washington Post — which called it “the
most expansive financial aid effort at a U.S. public university,
rivaled in scope only by those at a few elite private institutions”
— and the New York Times, plus several other regional and
local media outlets.