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The Door Opens Even Wider: AccessUVA Program Expands

Access UVA Makes It HappenJanuary 28, 2005

Jade Craig
Jade Craig
Class of 2006
Hattiesburg, Mississippi

“Don’t let anything stop you from receiving higher education and a degree. It will open so many doors and change your life.”

By Carol Wood

President John T. Casteen III announced Jan. 17 the expansion of AccessUVa, the University’s aggressive financial aid program, to reach an even greater number of low- and middle-income students.

Changes to AccessUVa, with a current annual commitment of $16.4 million, will cost an additional $1.5 million a year and will include offering qualified Virginia Community College System transfer students full AccessUVa benefits beginning in fall 2005 and adjusting upward the AccessUVa guideline for offering eligible students a debt-free education to the University. Undergraduate students (in- and out-of-state) with family incomes less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty level will have all of their demonstrated financial need met without loans or a work-study requirement beginning in fall 2005.

When AccessUVa was created last year, the guideline was set at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or $28,274 for a family of four.

At 200 percent, the family income is $37,700.

Casteen said University analysis showed that setting the bar at 150 percent excluded a large number of Virginia families whose income fell between 150 percent and 200 percent. His hope is that the change will encourage more students to apply to U.Va. This fall, more than 100 students, whose families were at or below the 150 percent level, entered the University as AccessUVa scholars.

Lissa Weathers
Lissa Weathers
Class of 2005
Fairfax, Virginia

“The idea of graduatig from U.Va. is a dream come true. U.Va. is an outstanding school, and I feel it is an honor and a privilege to have been accepted.”

“One point of these changes today is to provide incentives for VCCS students,” Casteen said. “It is meant to offer them the means to protect themselves from excessive debt and free them to do their best, graduate on time and move out into the world to become productive and well-educated citizens.”

A year ago, under the leadership of Casteen and the University’s Board of Visitors, U.Va. launched AccessUVa, a financial aid program intended to open the University’s doors to all qualified students — regardless of their economic circumstances. Its primary purposes were threefold:

• to make a debt-free education possible for qualified students whose families were at or below 150 percent of the poverty level (now 200 percent);

• to reduce debt for all other students receiving financial aid by capping need-based debt at one quarter of the in-state cost of attending the University for four years; and

• to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for all U.Va. students.

Components of AccessUVa were to be phased in over several years, but this week Casteen accelerated the speed of some aspects and upgraded others. These changes will have a direct impact on VCCS graduates beginning this year, although the opportunities will not be limited to VCCS students in the future.

Stephen Musick
Stephen Musick
Class of 2006
Honaker, Virginia

“At U.Va., there are as many perfect days as you want. You just have to be here for them.”

Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the VCCS, said he is grateful the University decided to target the state’s community college system and believes it couldn’t have found a more agreeable community to work with than those at the 23 two-year colleges located across Virginia.

“AccessUVa is an incredible resource aimed directly at our students,” DuBois said. “It will provide an on-ramp to higher education for many low- to moderate-income Virginians.”

DuBois said VCCS is made up of a diverse student body — from part-time working moms to a growing number of recent high school graduates looking to save money during their first two years in college.

Each year, VCCS graduates 15,000 students, half of whom plan to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. In 2004, 241 VCCS students applied to U.Va. as third-year transfer students with a 3.0 GPA or better. Almost all who met the University’s core requirements, such as foreign language or math and science, were offered admission.

“Enrolling qualified VCCS transfer students is an important component of our mission as a public university,” said John A. Blackburn, dean of admission. “The diversity of life experience that VCCS students bring adds immeasurably to the student experience here at U.Va.”

Historically, Blackburn said, VCCS students graduate from U.Va. at similar rates and with similar GPAs as the general undergraduate population.

Daisy Lundy
Daisy Lundy
Class of 2005
Columbia, South Carolina

“AccessUVa makes the opportunity of attending one of the nation’s top institutions available to any student who qualifies to study here. That’s the American dream at its best.”

These recent enhancements to AccessUVa reaffirm the University’s strong commitment to access and affordability in higher education. They also shine a light on recent debate about who should be sharing the cost of ensuring that qualified students — regardless of economic circumstance — are able to get a college
degree without incurring huge debt.

Casteen said he believes the commitment should be a partnership with the state, but noted that the commonwealth plans to fund only 31 percent of its own formula for student financial aid next year. In addition, recent federal legislative changes have reduced eligibility for students previously eligible for Pell Grants. More and more, the burden for providing financial aid is falling to individual institutions.

What is at stake, Casteen said, is one of our republic’s great legacies, the one Jefferson often wrote about: “a system of general education, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest.”

“By taking these new steps,” Casteen said, “by actively reaching out to VCCS graduates and by broadening our outreach to low-income students and their families, we are helping to ensure that those qualified students who never before believed they could afford to attend the University of Virginia, now understand that they can, and that we will work with them to make it happen.”


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