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Hard Times, ‘Bold Moves’

University officials consider ways to meet budget challenges

Hard economic realities have raised the ante for decisions being contemplated by University officials. Decreased funding from the state and increased need for financial aid among students have spurred the Board of Visitors to adopt one round of tuition and fee increases and consider other actions, such as increasing enrollment and further tuition hikes.

“We are at a point where we think it’s time to make some bold moves,” Leonard W. Sandridge, UVA executive vice president and chief operating officer, said at a Board of Visitors retreat in July.

Earlier this year, the board approved increases to tuition and fees for undergraduate, graduate, law and graduate business students. The increases were spurred by dwindling state support, which has fallen from $12,011 per in-state student a decade ago to $8,601 for the current academic year.

“The University’s appropriation from the state general fund has been cut four times since 2007-08, by a total of $36.8 million,” Sandridge said. Another cut is expected next year, running the four-year total of state cuts to more than $50 million.

At the same time that the institution is facing challenges, families also are coping with their own hardships. The number of undergrads who qualify for financial aid has increased more than 7 percent from five years ago, when AccessUVa, the University’s financial aid program, began.

At its July retreat, the board discussed bringing the University’s tuition closer to “full market rate.”

“Tuition increases are the most straightforward avenue to producing the additional funds the University needs to accomplish its goals,” board member Austin Ligon wrote in a white paper.

Though slightly higher than competing public universities,

UVA’s tuition is well below the average of peer institutions ranked among the Top 25 colleges and universities.

Sandridge noted that the School of Law’s true market-rate tuition of $47,500 (out-of-state) provides the resources needed to maintain its spot as a Top 10 law school. “Candidly, that’s sort of what it takes to have the kind of quality they’re striving for,” he said.

Any major tuition increase would come with an expansion of AccessUVa, ensuring the University remains affordable to low- and middle-income families, board members said.

Officials noted that UVA’s enrollment currently grows at about 1 percent each year, which has not kept pace with the increasing numbers of qualified applicants. The admission rate has dropped particularly among in-state students, from 61 percent in 1994 to 42.4 percent in 2010.

Those students currently make up about 69 percent of the University’s enrollment, but they pay about only 63 percent of their own educational costs. Out-of-state students, on the other hand, pay about 239 percent of their costs.

Some state legislators have discussed capping the percentage of out-of-state students, which would create a major budget problem for the University. Instead, board members noted that increasing total enrollment would create more space for both in-state and out-of-state applicants.