After four years, small gains for AccessUVA

After four years, small gains for AccessUVA

In April, Yvonne Hubbard sat down at a dinner for the first group of students that had received financial aid all four years under AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program. One student was going to Johns Hopkins medical school. Another landed a job at General Motors. Another was off to the Peace Corps.

Previous coverage:

AccessUVA almost at “full implementation”
180 full scholarships given to newest class

Opening the door
Can a low-income financial aid program stem the trend at UVA?

A very strong commitment
What AccessUVA, an ambitious aid program, has to offer

AccessUVA will have a budget next year that tops out at almost $62 million, and the financial aid program that began in 2004 has left its infancy. Yet despite the program’s leaps in funding from its initial $20 million, Hubbard, UVA’s director of financial aid, says attracting low-income students to UVA still remains a challenge.

“People in Southwest Virginia tend to believe that they can’t go to the University of Virginia,” she says. “It’s a lot easier to convince a person from the Norfolk or D.C. area. Or it used to be. What’s interesting is that’s beginning to change.”

UVA still lags behind other elite public schools in the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, a federal grant from middle- to low-income students. While UVA reached a high in 1997-98 of 10.5 percent, that percentage dropped to 7.5 percent in 2005-06 in 2005.

Thanks in part to AccessUVA (and UVA’s marketing of the program), that number has risen to 8.8 percent this year. But other public schools, such as those in the California university system, boast percentages near and in the 20s.

“The trend has started going in the other direction, but it’s only a 3-year trend,” says Hubbard. “We still get criticized for being low when you look at everybody else.”

When UVA rolled out AccessUVA, it was an announcement that the University intended to spar with the elite universities of the nation. But it lacks two things: substantial funding from the state that other public schools enjoy and decades of big-money fundraisings that swell private-school endowments.

“The trend [of low income students at UVA] has started going in the other direction, but it’s only a 3-year trend,” says Yvonne Hubbard, UVA director of financial aid. “We still get criticized for being low when you look at everybody else.”

The biggest challenge for AccessUVA, says Hubbard, is getting the word out about the program. And measuring its success in four years can be difficult. One way to look at it is through the lens of the number of applications UVA receives from low-income students.

In 2003, 4.7 percent of applicants came from families with an income within 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2007, that percentage rose to 5.3 percent.

But with the price of a UVA education ever increasing, including next year’s 7.3 percent hike for in-state students, the total student debt burden is also on the rise. In 2002-03, an undergrad degree would put you, on average, $13,476 in debt. That increased to $18,075 in 2006-07.

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