The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors gave fast-track approval to the university’s $3 billion year-ahead budget. The budget includes a $64 million increase, 22%, for research funding; an additional $12 million, 11%, for financial aid; and $13.5 million more for faculty hiring. Meanwhile, despite rolling back a planned 3% next-year tuition increase to 1.5%, reports the Daily Progress, in-state students entering this fall still will pay about 20% more than those entering in 2014.
There was only one dissenting vote: from soon-to-be-outgoing board member Helen Dragas. The Virginia Beach home builder said the university should have done more to avoid tuition increases. “I think we’ve been adopting a private model of high tuition-high [financial] aid that’s unsustainable,” she said.
Dragas repeated her opposition to the plan before Thursday’s vote, saying it is a “tax” on middle-income families to help pay increasing cost of attendance for low-income families.
“If we have the constitutional authority to tax one family to pay for another, without being elected, then surely we’ve found a loophole in — rather than an intention of — the Constitution,” she said.
Rector Bill Goodwin took issue with Dragas’ statistics. The Daily Progress quotes him as saying the increase in financial aid would help middle-income families, as well as those below the poverty line. The Affordable Excellence plan, he said, used tuition increases to lower net costs.
Now, I know that Bill Goodwin is a very hard-nosed guy, and he knows numbers, but I don’t know how his numbers add up. Maybe families of middle-class students do get a small rebate. But do they come out ahead after that 20% tuition increase? I’m betting they come out behind — although I will publish any numbers that say otherwise.
Meanwhile, the larger point still stands: UVa is being run in the interest of the institution itself, not the students or the families that pay their tuition. The board salves its conscience by providing financial aid to the poor and maybe a few crumbs to the middle class. Perhaps pursuing policies that bolster R&D, hire star faculty and increase the national prestige of the institution is what UVa should do. Maybe we Virginians should begin thinking of UVa as an economic engine for Charlottesville and the state, not a vehicle for providing an affordable quality education for Virginians. But if that’s what’s happening, let’s be honest about it.