UVa to Students: Suck It Up

UVa: captured by institutional interests.

by James A. Bacon

Helen Dragas burst into public view two years ago when, as rector of the University of Virginia Board of Trustees, she led an attempted ouster of UVa’s popular president, Teresa Sullivan. The Virginia Beach home builder lost the ensuing power struggle, publicly reconciled with Sullivan, stepped down as rector but remained on the board. Though rendered a minority voice, she has re-emerged as a counterweight to the president. Today, in an op-ed piece in the Times-Dispatch, she went full frontal with her concerns over the university’s direction.

In April, the board voted to jack up in-state tuition and fees by 4.3% for entering first-year students this August and by 5.9% for out-of-state students. Total cost for an in-state resident, including room, board and travel expenses will increase to $27,417.

Dragas was one of three board members who voted against what she describes as “unsustainable cost increases for students and parents.” UVa tuition has more than doubled in a decade while median family incomes adjusted for inflation in Virginia fell about 5%. University officials — Dragas never mentions Sullivan by name — cannot use the excuse of declining state support. State support is projected to increase 8% next year. According to the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), when the university’s medical center and non-academic enterprises like athletics are excluded, taxpayer dollars provide almost half the cost of an undergraduate education.

Most of the windfall, writes Dragas, will pay for “hefty salary increases for faculty and staff and augment generous retirement and health benefits that will now approach 40 percent of base salaries for full-time university employees.” Some of the increase will go to the “band-aid of financial aid that cannot keep up with the affordability gap.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the top priority of the university’s leadership is to maintain the prestige of the institution as one of the nation’s top-ranked universities by pumping up compensation for faculty and staff to aid with recruiting, even if it means eroding the mission of providing an affordable education for Virginians. My sense is that many faculty and staff feel little kinship with the state they reside in; they see state ties as a hindrance to the pursuit of national and international prominence. Many would love to rid themselves of a board appointed by Virginia’s governor and a governance system that allows pests like Dragas to question their goals.

Dragas makes an extraordinary statement in her op-ed. “Parents and students alike should organize to be more demanding consumers, require detailed data about how their tuition dollars are spent, question investments that don’t improve learning and advocate against using a tuition hike as the default to balance every short-term budget.”

In effect, she is saying, parents and students should organize to protest the policies of UVa’s administration and board of Trustees. As a graduate, and one who greatly values the experience I had there four decades ago, I quite agree. I stopped donating to the university years ago (not that they’ll miss my contributions). I believe Mr. Jefferson’s university has lost its way. And I am happy to make this blog available to anyone who has a serious critique to offer.

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47 responses to “UVa to Students: Suck It Up”

  1. larryg Avatar

    I don’t think UVA is doing anything any different than what Verizon or Comcast is doing.

    or for that matter- anything any different than what Ms. Dragas own business does!

    Higher Ed is a business these days. They charge what the market will bear and they adjust accordingly when demand changes or competitors challenge.

    I’m not sure where all the sentimentality comes from… to start with.

    The folks who run UVA are duty-bound to do whatever is necessary to (in their minds) maintain academically strong and financially robust.

    people who go to UVA -chose UVA over other choices.. they’re buying something – they value.. that they did have the chance before they signed on the dotted line – to choose differently.

    In fact, if you think about it – higher ED is a transaction that you can easily rescind as compared to like buying a car and then deciding it was not a good choice!

    UVA is to many people – one of the ultimate gold rings on the higher ed merry-go-round… but make no mistake – the folks who run UVA know that also and will charge whatever the market will bear.

    prices will come down when UVA is forced to respond to reduced demand but they have options – like lowering their acceptance standards to whoever has the money… or cutting things that have less demand but expensive..etc.

    I went to college on the cheap.. I won’t go into the details but there was no way I was going to be able to attend UVA. I have great respect for those who did have that opportunity… but the sentimentality is unrealistic in my view.

    I’m actually surprised that a hard-nose business women wants to reduce prices .. she wouldn’t for her own business unless forced to…so why not operate UVA like a business the same way? what’s the hand-wringing about?


  2. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    UVA is the University of Virginia in name only. In fact,when I lived in New York,many I knew thought that it was a private school a la UPENN. Its admission policies,with a high percentage of out of state students, and its refusal to grow its student body to reflect population growth in the state demonstrate that it really is more interested in becoming a institution on the model of the Northeastern Ivies. I remember when I was at Governor’s school we would have a student who would be accepted at one of the real Ivies and refused at Charlottesville. The MBA program and the Med School are top class but it has become so “elite ” as to have to real connection to the state . As a friend of mine once commented UVA should avoid “creeping State Usium”.
    It should go private. Perhaps if the “Lawn” and Rotunda were sold the state would be better able to to funds the JMUs and VCUs of the world.

    1. I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe UVa should go private. Of course, then we’d have to let William & Mary do the same.

    2. virginiagal2 Avatar

      Speaking as an alumna, I always felt like the emphasis was on having a really top quality research university in Virginia. To me, that is a goal with real public value.

      I think there was around 25% out of state when I graduated in the early 80’s – it’s now up to a little over 30%, correct? Not a huge change for three decades.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    I have to say that I completely agree with Les. The University of Virginia seems to have no particular mission to provide a high quality and affordable education to Virginians. In fact, they really appear to have no strategy and no plan. If they are trying to become more prestigious – like the NorthEast Ivys – they are failing and failing miserably. UVA has fallen about 10 positions in the US News & World Report rankings over the last 25 years – from a ranking of #15 to a ranking of #25.

    As a public asset, one would think that our state government would provide some level of direction and/or custodial management to UVA. Of course, our state government is grossly incompetent and culpably negligent. UVA might as well be on the moon as far as the cackling class in Richmond is concerned.

    UVA should go private. The lawn and Rotunda can be donated to the commonwealth to be preserved as part of Virginia history. The rest of the university could be purchased from the state by using a combination of the endowment and a bond offering against future, private tuition payments. Assuming the approximately 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students pay $20,000 per year more once UVA goes private, that generates $400M per year. If UVA uses $300M to pay back a loan and the other $100M to cover missed state payments then they can borrow and repay about $5B over 30 years. Spending the endowment and the proceeds of the loan, UVA can buy itself for $10B.

    The state could invest $5B of the $10B in existing public colleges and universities and use the other $5B as an endowment to provide funds for deserving Virginia students who can’t afford to go to college.

    Everybody is happy. The university that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about providing Virginians an affordable education doesn’t have to pretend that it does care anymore. The other colleges and universities get more funding and Virginia’s needy high school graduates get a chance for tuition support.

    1. A leveraged buyout of UVa? Interesting idea. Just one problem — it would require the university to run a lot leaner and meaner than it does now. It would have to slash a lot of bureaucratic overhead…. something the administrators have no interest in doing. Nah, if anyone over there is seriously thinking about going private, they’re thinking of doing so without paying the state a dime.

    2. virginiagal2 Avatar

      My take – and I know a moderate number of people who work at UVA, although not the top managers that would be cool to have inside scoop from, so don’t expect juicy inside stories – is that most of the people who work at UVA care, very much, about providing a top quality education to their students and producing top quality research to add to our communal knowledge.

      Many of them are making less than they would make someplace else. They love the school, they care about it, and they love the idea of contributing to something shared.

      The US News rankings are a joke, measuring quite a few things that have greatly contributed to cost and have zip to do with academic quality. The fact that we haven’t slipped further is surprising, given the funding and the maniacal efforts schools are putting in to maximize inputs and recreation to climb up the rankings.

      We can’t logically consistently criticize both not moving up the rankings and high cost. Things that add to the rankings – arenas and fields and climbing walls and new student gyms and new buildings and yoga centers – even when donated, are gifts that eat, that may not have immediate capital costs but have ongoing costs for maintenance, repair, staff, utilities, you name it.

      UVA has a pretty extensive assistance program for poor students. It provides a very good education at a very good price. It’s not cheap – that quality of education is not. It’s cheaper than most equivalent schools.

      I don’t get this desire to pile on a very good school.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    UVa is a crown jewel of public college education. In-state tuition is still nowhere close to what private elite schools charge. I am at a loss to understand why these conservatives want to privatize such a valuable part of the state’s higher ed system. These deluded people want quality, don’t want to pay for it and then want to switch to a private college that will charge them what, two or three times what the bill is now? That’s progress? It’s OK to pay $300 K for Harvard but not a public UVA at a fraction of the cost? “Public” schools are supposed to be second rate? Huh?
    Moreover, if Jim Bacon is right that UVa students see “little kinship” with what he imagines to be “Virginia” well that’s a damn good thing. What Virginia is he talking about? The Virginia of white male superiority, blue blazers and khaki pants and Bass loafers and road trips to Sweetbriar and all that snotty sense of entitlement?
    Maybe that’s the UVa. Jim remembers. You ought to hear my cousin (class of 66) talk about it when it was all men and coats and ties and preppiness and “Old Virginny.”
    Cuz Rick would tell you about how his roommate took him down to watch the Klan cross burnings in Southside back in the early 1960s — something Brother Bacon may not have ever seen and certainly doesn’t want brought up because it doesn’t fit his vision of what Virginia was or may still be..
    What you are seeing is a culture and generational clash between theDJRs and Bacons and what a decent, modern college is really like right now. It may not be what they remember or what, but let’s be thankful it is growing away from the “Virginia” that some worship.
    As for Dragas,, I’ll take Teresa Sullivan any day.I get to vote because not only am I a Virginia taxpayer, I am a Hoo parent.


    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Why is it that liberals are so quick to blame the management teams at insurance companies, hospital chains, etc for skyrocketing health care costs while being unable to blame the management teams at universities for sky-rocketing tuition costs?

      “U.Va. tuition more than doubled in a decade, while median family incomes adjusted for inflation in Virginia fell about 5 percent in the last reportable four years.”

      The only Virginia tradition I want to see returned is the tradition of a kid who went through high school sleeping on the couch in his father’s one bedroom apartment be able to work and borrow enough money to get through UVA without going insolvent.

      When I went to UVA it was affordable and ranked #15 in the US. Now, it is unaffordable and ranked #25. Peter thinks that’s acceptable. I don’t.

      I get to vote not only because I am a Virginia taxpayer but I put myself through UVA waiting tables and moving furniture back in a time when the administration of UVA actually thought they should provide an affordable education to Virginians.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        My take – and I know a moderate number of people who work at UVA, although not the top managers that would be cool to have inside scoop from, so don’t expect juicy inside stories – is that most of the people who work at UVA care, very much, about providing a top quality education to their students and producing top quality research to add to our communal knowledge.

        Many of them are making less than they would make someplace else. They love the school, they care about it, and they love the idea of contributing to something shared.

        The US News rankings are a joke, measuring quite a few things that have greatly contributed to cost and have zip to do with academic quality. Things like rejecting a high percentage of students, paying a lot of money per student, and having lavish student perks are rewarded in the rankings. Being frugal is not.

        The fact that we haven’t slipped further is surprising, given the funding and the maniacal efforts schools are putting in to maximize inputs and recreation to climb up the rankings.

        We can’t logically consistently criticize both not moving up the rankings and high cost. Things that add to the rankings – arenas and fields and climbing walls and new student gyms and new buildings and yoga centers – are gifts that eat, that even if donated may not have immediate capital costs but have ongoing costs for maintenance, repair, staff, utilities, you name it.

        UVA has a pretty extensive assistance program for poor students that is dedicated to making sure they can pay. It provides a very good education at a very good price. It’s not cheap – that quality of education is not. It’s cheaper than most equivalent schools.

        I don’t get this desire to pile on a very good school.

      2. virginiagal2 Avatar

        You’re measuring pre-financial-aid cost, not net cost.

        UVA already has Access UVA, which per their site “is the financial aid program for the University of Virginia. It guarantees 100 percent of the demonstrated need of students admitted to the University. This important program allows U.Va. to operate with a “need-blind” admission policy that bolsters efforts to attract the best students here and achieve socioeconomic diversity in the student population.”

        If I remember the fuss correctly, until recently, Access UVA didn’t even require that any of the “demonstrated need” money be borrowed – now it does include loans in the mix, not just grants, but it’s still pretty generous. And there was – and is – a huge backlash against asking poor students to have to borrow – there’s a push to beef up its funding to allow grants-only.

        I would rather see big donors give to Access UVA than donate a golf course or a yoga center, but people give what they want to give.

        On a related note, in fairness, when I went to UVA, it was cheaper, but US News rankings were not a big deal. We didn’t have a student gym, just the old gym with a basketball court, tennis, and walking loop – our dorm rooms didn’t have air conditioning – there were few on-grounds food options and the food was very basic – no golf course – no yoga center – no climbing wall – the bookstore was small and basic. That costs less, but that isn’t what the rankings reward, and it would be swimming against what the market is asking for.

        What isn’t fair is to ask for a Lexus with all the amenities, and then blame bad management because you want to pay a Yugo price. You can have lots of extras and pay a lot, or no extras and pay a lot less.

        Try telling today’s prospective students they get a dorm room with no AC, basic high school food, no gym, no golf course, no music arena – and see where that takes the rankings. You can cut a lot of money in sports, too, which don’t usually pay for themselves, and I believe (nationally,not UVA-specific) typically cost about 1500 per student per year.

        There may be bad management some places at UVA, but the people I know are good, and they care. A lot.

    2. “I am at a loss to understand why these conservatives want to privatize such a valuable part of the state’s higher ed system.”

      The only reason I might support privatization is that it seems evident that much of the UVa establishment would like to go private and is doing a dismal job of keeping the institution affordable, so you might as well give ’em what they want and reallocate state dollars to other institutions…. not that providing an affordable education is at the top of their list of priorities either. Unlike UVa and W&M, other institutions are not capable of going private.

      Given my druthers, UVa would remain public and do a more conscientious job of keeping tuition affordable.

      “If Jim Bacon is right that UVa students see “little kinship” with what he imagines to be “Virginia” well that’s a damn good thing.”

      Wow! Let’s dissect Peter’s logic here…

      Jim pines for the good old days when college was more affordable…

      In the good old days of “Old Virginny” when college was more affordable, the Klan burned crosses in Southside…

      The idea of making colleges affordable is morally tainted because it is irreparably coupled with Jim Crow and cross burnings.

      Is that about right?

      1. Ah, hah! We learn a little bit more about Virginiagal2 — she’s a Wahoo!

        Regarding UVa’s juggling act between subduing tuition increases and subsidizing tuitions for low-income students, see my analysis here:
        “Sullivan’s Plan Optimizes UVa’s Institutional Self Interest.”

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Another thought. Isn’t it interesting that when some member of the White Male Club like Casteen ran things you never had all of this drama or hand wringing or much chat of privatization.
    But put a WOMAN in charge (and one who is actually a qualified scholar and not a mere fundraiser) than you get all kinds of existential questions and blah and blah and blah.

    1. I was never a fan of Casteen. You can go back on this blog and see what I wrote about him years ago.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Ahhh … the tried and true liberal tactic of invoking sexism or racism when losing an argument.

      Let’s try facts.

      On April 2, 2013 I responded to one of your comments on this blog with the following:

      “Casteen was a train wreck. Sullivan is a better president operating in worse times.”.

      Of course, Moe was a funnier Stooge than Larry but, in the end, they were both Stooges.

      If Sullivan doesn’t care about skyrocketing tuition she should seek employment elsewhere.

      1. “Moe was a funnier Stooge than Larry but, in the end, they were both Stooges.”

        Truly one of the great lines of all time.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I thought you and casteen were best friends my mistake!

    1. We’re both white, 60-something men. I can see how you might be confused!

  7. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Groveton i am impressedi do not have yourmemory skills

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Ha ha. More Google skills than memory skills. I knew I detested Casteen and I thought I had written something negative about him. Google did the heavy lifting.

  8. I’m stunned that a call for better fiscal restraint and adherence to the mission of providing accessible education to the citizens of the Commonwealth so quickly shifted to privatization. When did fiscal restraint and good stewardship of billions of dollars become an inconvenience that can be wished away by administrators & alums (it is not students & parents)? UVA is a state agency supported by billions of taxpayer $ since 1820 and the Commonwealth is not going to relinquish it. Moot.

    Why would Virginia even want one more average private university? It’s unlikely that there will ever be another, new public university created anywhere in the US. Far better to focus on managing the ones we have.

    I sense that Bacon is on to something when he asks if Charlottesville may be disconnected from Virginians; a myopia among higher ed staff can develop as they move to different institutions, forgetting that each one has its own calling. It’s easier to focus on one’s own careeer aggrandizement, independent of current employer.

    Dragas is right to demand a better budget–that is the primary role of the BOV. Her cohorts, probably fearing the ire of faculty & staff having seen what was unleashed on Dragas, should demand no less. Resolving to move faculty pay to the top 20 is a list I wouldn’t want to be on–I’d like to see UVA in the top 20 for faculty quality and for student learning outcomes and for research, not for spending. This obsession with metrics is bad, so at least work toward metrics that measure performance & results.

    This school needs a leader who can raise funds on time steward donor gifts to preserve affordability, and to lead it toward distinction as a premier public.

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      I have a hard time buying into that argument, probably because I know a number of UVA employees (although not top management) – the dreaded college administrators. A high percentage are UVA alumni. Another big chunk are spouses of faculty or staff. The ones I know are focused on UVA very specifically and loyally and are not interested in moving to another school.

      The people I know at UVA are staff, mostly mid-level. They are very good. They are not paid well at all – ranging from below to well below what I would expect them to be making if they worked for a business. The ones I know are working on things that make sense and advance the university’s mission, not some touchy feely weirdness. They are an impressive group of people.

      I don’t know a lot of faculty personally. I know one person who lives in the area who has been doing research and consulting and was considering going back to teach. This person did not even apply at UVA – best I can remember, exact words were, “They don’t pay I couldn’t afford to take a job there if I got it.” They did apply to other Virginia and Maryland schools, I believe mostly private.

      To me, it is not realistic to expect to be in the top 20 for faculty quality and not be in the top 20 for faculty pay. If we heard someone saying that in business, we’d immediately question it. You do get what you pay for, and the best of the best have plenty of attractive options.

      The employee and faculty benefits that Dragas is complaining about are significantly worse than regular state employee benefits for health care and I believe that holds for retirement options as well. One of the first things UVA did when it got additional fiscal independence was to cut employee benefits.

      As I alluded to before, too many of UVA’s gifts over the years are “gifts that eat” – not central to academics, expensive to maintain, increasing fixed costs, and not improving affordability to students. Most are donated without funds to pay for their upkeep and operation. Birdwood, yoga center, John Paul Jones Arena – all very cool, but someone has to pay and if any of those were donated with an endowment for upkeep, I didn’t hear about it.

      There has also been a HUGE investment in student amenities – dining facilities, exercise facilities, bookstore, student activities and support – night and day from when I attended. All of that moves up your US News rankings, but it costs a lot too.

      From my perspective, as an alum that has kept up with the school and has family members she hopes to have attend, I’m looking at a school with not particularly well-paid faculty and staff, that is also a school that has added a ton of expenses related to buildings and grounds and amenities. I genuinely do not “get” the appeal in targeting the faculty and staff again, rather than cutting back on fixed expenses and unneeded amenities. Is this some kind of ideological thing or something?

  9. wesghent Avatar

    An op-ed May 2 in Richmond T-D by Helen Dragas can be viewed as nothing more than a polemic against UVa’s governance (administration and board) and an effort to promote her own selfish ambitions. She reiterates with clarity why she should have been left off the board in the first place. She has but one objective: to launch a thousand votes in her own behalf. Discretion requires that her self-serving ideas be given no further comment. She is wrong on many facts about financial aid programs and funding. Her lack of personal experience with need and being denied access cries out to be ignored. She sounds like other ill-prepared politicians who have recently latched onto causes to stay in office, such as transportation (tunnel tolls and US 460). But education in Virginia is even more crucial. Walking a mile in the shoes of the needy can be eye-opening; talking about it rarely is convincing.
    Virginia’s alumni, faculty, students and administration show a keen awareness of Jefferson’s vision every day — read “UVA Today.” Many of us continue to support it, most recently when the Campaign for the University of Virginia surpassed its historic $3 billion goal in June of 2013. With teamwork and self-sacrifice (remember UVa basketball!), there will be more. I worked my way thru our U. for two degrees; so can you. Gotta want it.

  10. You can’t conflate what the u is paying with what is received. If bennies are inferior @ 40% then someone has done a very poor job of shopping.

    Paying faculty well should draw talent, but it is the talent that needs measuring as it translates to students. The box-checking is easy when ticking off expenditures. What do we get for the money? And is it realistic or desirable to compete with elite private institutions? Those students are already served. When UVA turns down an applicant who is accepted @ Ivies it’s because they see through the safety school bid.

    And Ghent you have personalized your attack in a way that reveals something other than interest in higher ed. Please describe this bountiful personal gain that Dragas is about to receive. Shojld I infer that you would embrace an 8% tuition hike?

    When referring to adminstrators I mean the decisionmakers. When I refer to an interest in career advancement this would apply mainly to faculty and ambitious staff. There isn’t much promoting from within to top spots at the u.

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      I looked it up. Per the budget doc, the university isn’t paying 40%, much less 40% for just healthcare and retirement.

      For all fringe benefits – healthcare, retirement, social security contribution, training, continuing education – the average cost is 25.2% for faculty and 35.9% for staff.

      See the table on page 13 of http://www.virginia.edu/budget/Docs/2013-14%20Budget%20Summary.All%20Divisions.pdf

      I pretty much never take someone’s numbers at face value without checking.

      1. Use these figures from /Nov Finance Committee for the budgetdhttp://www.virginia.edu/bov/financeminutes.html
        which are current. You get 29.9% for faculty, 39.5% for staff. Then, you can weigh that distribution across 78% employees are staff, 22% are faculty. Figure is approaching 40%.

        1. virginiagal2 Avatar

          If you weight it out, I get 37.4% for ALL fringe benefits, NOT for health and retirement alone. Health and retirement are what went up – they are not all of the fringe benefits. The retirement increase came from the state, not the university.

          Fringe benefits would presumably include 6.2% for employer contribution to social security, tuition reimbursement, disability insurance, paid training, and all of the other perks that large institutions – business or universities – normally offer.

          If you take out the 6.2 Social Security percentage, you’re down to 31.2%. I would assume disability, tuition reimbursement, and paid training are another few percent. That does not equal nearly 40%.

          I do not know if sabbaticals and paid leave are charged to fringe benefits, but without data one way or the other, I’ll leave that as an open question.

          Based on the limited data available, it seems to me like 40% is not a good estimate.

  11. larryg Avatar

    this is a fascinating – and amusing conversation.

    When Comcast or Cox rips you a new one are you “disappointed” or want to “blame” someone?

    Maybe folks don’t want to admit it -but UVA is a business. They are in competition with others.

    UVA knows exactly what they are doing and that is they are doing what they have to do – to remain a competitive entity – in this case – an educational entity.

    tell me why Comcast or Cox should not charge you as much as they can.

    tell me why UVA should not charge you as much as they can.

    there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of good colleges and universities that can give you every bit as good as an education at UVA – for a hell of a lot less money.

    we have choices. When we grow up – sentimentality – needs to be balanced with pragmatism and if someone is charging more for a product than you think they should – you have two choices – buy it somewhere else – or admit you value it more and pay more for it.

    I can’t understand why there is so much angst!


  12. larryg Avatar

    well, maybe that came across a bit rude. my apologies to all.

  13. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    One of my biggest problems with some of the bloggers here is that they really don’t have much of a perspective outside of the state borders of Virginia.

    Example: UVa is No. 2 ranked as a public college after UC Berkeley. Both are very strong, well-regarded schools with global reputations.

    The in-state-tuition hike with room and board at UVA will make the costs comparable to in-state fees at Berkeley.

    Is that such as travesty? Where does this mentality come from that Virginia’s very strong public schools have to be second rate? Why don’t they understand that Virginia is preparing in and out of state students for places and services globally? Why do they cling to the idea that UVA must be a factory for upper middle class jobs for Virginia-use only like being a doctor, lawyer,m accountant or MBA?

    One of the saddest thing about Bacons Rebellion is the self-imposed parochialism — we’re supposed to keep things the way they were 40 years ago. Maybe all those Asian faces on the lawn scare them. And please don’t step over the state’s border in reality or thinking.

    1. larryg Avatar

      I think Peter makes some excellent points. UVA has been around almost 200 years and of that time, when did we see the current type of laser focus on it’s tuition and fees?

      What makes Ms. Dragas and her supporters viewpoint legitimate – in terms of comparing – as Peter does – UVA to other Universities?

      It seems of late – the last few years, perhaps not even a decade – many of our institutions have been under attack from folks who portray themselves – for want of a better phrase – fiscally conservative watchdogs.

      Don’t get me wrong – I believe every institution – govt or private or in between needs to have scrutiny and accountability for it’s operations but the kind of thing that Dragas is doing is not working collaboratively to convince others of her view and gain support for it – but instead to topple the current operation… tear it down… and rebuild it in her vision – a vision that so far has not really been shared – to gain support.

      so we have this toxic environment (not dissimilar to other current issues) where we not only have critics, but strident critics who want to tear down the current version of something – but they have no real alternative to share and for THAT alternative to have the same level of scrutiny so that it is a true comparative approach.

      Dragas has never really done anything other than vociferously attack and undermine the institution without really making clear the specifics of where she would like to see it go – and this part is important – convince others collaboratively of change – rather than operating as a jihad.

      we have way too many people these days that are hyper-critical of things – but they have no alternatives. They’re not so much into change and evolution as they are into tear-it-down, sand-into-the-gears.

      Whether it’s public schools, health care, or regulation – it often seems that the current approach is to shoot first and ask questions later.

      Our country is a mess because of this kind of mindset these days – in my opinion of course.

    2. virginiagal2 Avatar

      Thank you for this.

      Virginia deserves to have great public universities. We need to be able to develop first class minds. Even if someone’s vision was for UVA to be a factory for upper middle class jobs for Virginia-only use (eek!), the state and the students are better off with a great university than a mediocre one.

      We all need to realize, when those kids go to apply for jobs or to graduate school for med school, law school, or MBA programs, they are competing against kids from all over the country and all over the world. There isn’t a “special little snowflake” card that insulates our kids from competition.

      Great research universities keep states competitive. They create jobs and innovation. They attract business investment. Their graduates start businesses and add to our cultural life.

      And if you take advantage of it, what you learn in school improves the quality of your overall life. Classes I took in constitutional law, cognition, and Shakespeare still influence my thinking today. They were not a waste, despite the fact I’ve worked in tech since the 80’s.

      UVA is a great school. Larry mentioned that he thinks there are hundreds and thousands of schools that do as good or better a job. I disagree. I think UVA made my career better, and more important, made my life better. I want others to have that opportunity.

      1. larryg Avatar

        “UVA is a great school. Larry mentioned that he thinks there are hundreds and thousands of schools that do as good or better a job. I disagree. I think UVA made my career better, and more important, made my life better. I want others to have that opportunity.”

        I think “thousands” was over the top, and even “hundreds” perhaps questionable but there certainly are more than a few that are the equal or better.

        Having said that – UVA is a great University – both in diversity of of students and diversity of major areas of innovation and study – and careers and many grads are contributors to a better world.

        one example – a little known (outside of education) – reading performance assessment metric – PALS.

        ” PALS-K (from the UVA Curry schools of education) is a measure of children’s knowledge of several important literacy fundamentals: phonological awareness, alphabet recognition, concept of word, knowledge of letter sounds and spelling. PALS-K provides a direct means of matching literacy instruction to specific literacy needs and provides a means of identifying those children who are relatively behind in their acquisition of these fundamental literacy skills.”

        PALS is VOLUNTARILY used in 99% of Virginia K-12 schools.

        I am opposed to Dragas (or anyone else) method of change to UVA or any other institution. Some like the “disruptive” nature of the approach but I see that approach as destructive with no particular alternative approach – just do what one can to damage the current one not agreed with.

        A competing vision – with specific alternatives needs to be “sold” to a majority of people vice mounting essentially a virtual assassination/coup of the current leadership.

        Change is necessary and needed but UVA is far from a smoldering mess that has to be rebuilt from scratch. People who are unable to convince others – then try unilateral

        we have too many people who approach change these days like Ms. Dragas.

        we need true leaders – where they lead to where people want to go… collaboratively and collectively. The people who staff the University are not worthless sloths that need to be forcibly removed. It is a bureaucracy no question but the sum of it’s parts is essentially exceptionally valuable and what is needed is a way to reinvent itself – to evolve not torches and pitchforks.

    3. The reason I pay attention to UVA is becase it is an easy petrie dish of broader challenges throughout higher ed. You are citing #2 from US News, whose methodology skews toward selectivity of admisssions. I prioritize output, not bragging rights on which students are admitted. The other data is low-bar stuff like graduation rates and freshmen retention. Watch for these to deteriorate as 4th year students face 27% increase over what they commited to pay as first years. Interestingly, you will find far fewer data for comparing institutions on output. There seems to be an allergy to those.

      It is precisely because of UVA’s supremacy that all of this matters. It needs governance that assures continued excellence, not accepting second-rate. I think the call for careful spending is misheard. I would rather have $$ to offer to my next faculty hire than be locked into some overpriced insurance plan. I would rather augment career counseling than spend $400 per square foot (!) on a generic classroom building. I think the call is for prioritizing for what matters most to educational outcome. I want graduates to have what they need when they exit so that they can succeed all over the world.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Unless I’m missing a fact or a connection or just being stupid about how to compound the math, fourth year students wouldn’t be seeing an 27% increase – if year one is baseline, next year was 3.7% increase, year after that 3.8, this year 4.7 percent, the total increase would be 1*1.037*1.038*1.047 = 1.127, or a 12.7% increase for the last year from the first year, correct?

        Then the total cost would not go up 12.7% – total cost would go up around 6% if my math is right, because the first year is the baseline, second year up 3.7%, third year up a compounded 7.6%, fourth year up a compounded 12.7%, each year’s tuition multiplied by the baseline, averages out right under 6%.

        To compare the tuition increase with baseline inflation, for the past 3 years, I show 3.2, 2.1, and 1.5, or about a 6.9% increase. So that portion of it would be general inflation.

        FWIW. Look over my math and let me know if you see anything off – I was kind of puzzling this through as I went.

    4. Parochial… maybe. But this is out of line: “Maybe all those Asian faces on the lawn scare them.”

      The casual, almost reflexive attribution of racism to those you disagree with is offensive.

      1. larryg Avatar

        I took it to mean academic competition… for enrollment…

  14. virginiagal2 Avatar

    UVA is self-insured. It is not locked into any insurance plan – it is paying actual claims cost.

    1. larryg Avatar

      are they also administering it? Our school system is doing this but they are essentially contracting with the insurance company to specify the plan and administer it.

      basically – the county schools are taking the risk and already just two higher than expected claims have increased premiums for others.

      With a bigger pool, like UVA, it probably will not see such dramatic impacts.

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        They use the insurance company to process and administer claims. It’s a pretty standard methodology for large groups, and the most cost effective approach. Also gives them lots of control.

  15. virginiagal2 Avatar

    Well, at this point, I have not been able to find any source for the “50% unemployed or underemployed” in the editorial, despite checking SCHEV and other sources, so my disbelief will have to stand as simply disbelief.

    Best I can tell for the other statistics discussed here, the 40% figure in the editorial is an overestimate by at least 10%. Not in the editorial, the claimed 27% increase in tuition seems, my best estimate for impact on total costs for the whole degree, to be around 6% for the total cost of tuition only, or around 3% for all expenses including room and Board.

    I do have one other point that I want to vent about. I have served on Boards, nothing as big as the BOV. When you serve on a Board, I have always been told that you have a fidiciary duty – basically a solemn commitment – to put the interest of the organization ahead of your own. As I understand it, this includes a duty to state any disagreements during discussion with the rest of the Board, a duty to follow proper process, and a duty to support the full Board if yours is not the majority opinion.

    While college acceptances are still going on, writing an attacking editorial belittling the university, claiming what IMHO are exaggerated costs, and claiming that the school does not provide a good value to its graduates, when you lose a Board vote, is IMHO not consistent with the spirit of fiduciary duty. This was very poor behavior and poor sportsmanship that to me is grossly disloyal to the university that the BOV is supposed to serve.

    I don’t know what Ms Dragas’ motivations are, and I don’t care, but I personally feel her actions have repeatedly hurt the university.

  16. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
    Ghost of Ted Dalton

    When did affordable education to Virginians become the focus of the University? I thought it was founded to provide the greatest education in the world.

    I doubt Jefferson would be pleased to see the focus of U.Va. turn from being a great instructional institution into a parochial political interest that simply is a “special interest” of Virginia legislators. Keep costs lows, instruction be damned!

    Fact: A majority of the first class at the University of Virginia was from OUT OF STATE.

    There’s no historical evidence that the founding of U.Va. was solely for Virginia students. None. Of course it would be open to Virginia students and Virginia students would benefit from it, but I believe that many classes had a majority of out of state students up until the 20th century.

    We can debate the merits or demerits of U.Va.’s current course. However, I do get a little annoyed that I constantly hear state politicians say that U.Va. was founded for Virginia students and therefore it should be run for Virginia students.

  17. Jim Bacon, why don’t you invite Helen Dragas to explain her figures here? Her email address is published with the piece hdragas@dragas.com. Your other poster here looks to be counting different baskets, therefore different math results. Neither her math nor mine is relevant, unless virginiagal2 is BOV or Pat Hogan.

    To those of you seemingly undisturbed by rising costs of higher ed, this is why it is a problem for all of us, not just students and their families:

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      Lift, I would love to see Helen explain her numbers. I do not think I am “counting different baskets” – I cannot come up with a way to reconcile the BOV-published 37 percent that includes a variety of things other than health and retirement – including over 6 percent for social security – with “almost forty percent” that contains only health and retirement. My math is in fact relevant, because I have every right to call shenanigans when the numbers don’t add up. In fact, that’s something that you do while in school at UVA – critique arguments.

      Second, people who disagree with your prescription are not undisturbed by the rising cost of higher ed. UVA does not pay its professors or staff particularly well, and it can’t stay successful without compensating faculty and staff at market value. That doesn’t prevent reducing expenses. There are many other places where larger cuts would result in more savings than what you propose, and without hurting the university.

      My suggestions, which you apparently missed, were to remove the subsidy for sports (estimated to average around 1500 per year for US universities, not UVA specific), and sell or attempt to monetize unneeded amenities, such as Birdwood golf course, the concert arena, and other non-academic white elephants that increase operating expenses and thus costs. There is no reason for tuition money to pay to maintain a golf course – I have nothing against golf, but for a university – please. Ditto concerts – if that is not currently paying for itself, including all operating expenses, privatize that sucker.

      That should be at least a ten percent reduction in costs, and possibly more.

      Finally, I’d suggest a huge push to fully fund Access UVA and expand it to reduce the cost of tuition. It makes no sense to have a huge endowment and have it divided up so you can’t use it to reduce tuition costs. Development needs to focus on getting gifts that contribute to academic life, not vanity projects so someone can get their name on a building. The latter not only does not reduce costs, their operating expenses actually increase them.

      1. All good suggestions. I think UVa could do more but your ideas — removing sports subsidies, selling off non-essential properties — would make a really good start.

    2. Good idea. I’ll contact Dragas if I have time. Just be forewarned that I’m a bit overwhelmed with a backlog of work right now.

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