UVa’s New Strategic Plan: Lofty Goals, New Programs… Mo’ Money

UVa’s new president, Jim Ryan, starts to leave his mark on the institution.

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors has adopted a new strategic plan, The 2030 Plan — the first under the leadership of President Jim Ryan. If UVa achieves its goals, says Ryan in the introduction, “We will be the leading public university in the country in 2030 and one of the very best in the world, whether public or private.”

The 2030 Plan expresses many high-minded goals — among them, to recruit “talented, diverse and service-oriented” students; recruit and retain excellent faculty and administrative staff; prepare students to be “servant leaders” in a diverse, globally connected world; establish leadership in critical areas of research; and offer one of the best values in higher education.

The plan is devoid of details on how the university will attain these goals, but it appears that the board will be delegating much of its authority to Ryan and his staff. The Daily Progress notes that the board “will approve three-year funding plans at a strategic level” but leave “line-item allocations” up to senior officials. “Previously board members would have approved those expenditures as well.” Moreover, UVa’s administration will have the authority to adjust the funding plan by as much as $15 million without full board approval.

While illuminating institutional goals to boost UVa’s national standing as one of the nation’s great universities, the strategic plan is silent about an issue of vital interest to Virginians — affordability. Rather than emphasizing affordability, the strategic plan emphasizes “value”:

As a service to the Commonwealth and beyond, we will remain not simply one of the best universities in the country, but also one of the best values in higher education. We will equip our students with the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that will enable them to pursue meaningful and productive careers, including securing their first jobs after graduation. Whether they intend to start a business or non-profit, discover a cure for a disease or pen a novel, teach children or care for senior citizens, our graduates should be ready to contribute not just to their own well-being but to the greater good. We will also remain outstanding stewards of public financing.

One of the university’s key initiatives will be “significantly expanding” its SuccessUVA financial aid program “to enable more low- and middle-income students to attend the University and engage in all that we offer.” Furthermore, the university will expand student services: More academic and career advising, a new health and wellness center to promote student well being, an expanded Multicultural Student Center, and a Contemplative Sciences Center to “foster resilience.”

How will UVa finance these budget-expanding initiatives? One way, noted in the Daily Progress article, will be to tap the income thrown off by the university’s $2 billion Strategic Investment Fund. But the plan reveals nothing about:

  • Tuition and fees. Thanks to increased state support, UVa found it politically expedient to restrain from increasing in-state tuition and fees this year. The 2030 Plan gives no indication, however, of how aggressively the University will need to raise tuition revenue in future years to meet its goals.
  • Out-of-state enrollment. One way state flagship universities raise revenue is to charge elevated tuition for out-of-state students and then increase out-of-state enrollment. Some of that lucrative out-of-state revenue may be used to reduce tuition for in-state students, but much of it is diverted to programs reflecting administrative priorities.
  • Financial aid. The Plan indicates that the University is committed to keeping tuition affordable for lower- and middle-income students. In other words, the university will build upon its “high tuition/high aid” model” which extracts wealth from well-to-do families to redistribute to lesser-income families. This approach, given UVa’s status as a public institution, arguably represents a form of taxation, but the plan declines to make the point explicit. How much wealth will be transferred? UVa is not likely to reveal that figure to the public.
  • Enrollment of lower-income students. When accounting for financial aid, lower-income students can attend UVa for less than any other public university in Virginia (save William & Mary). The key to making this high-aid strategy work is enrolling one of the lowest percentage of lower-income students in the state. Will UVa continue this policy or will it admit more lower-income students who require more financial aid?
  • Other expenses. Tuition & fees account for roughly half the cost of attendance. Room, board, books, and other expenses account for the other half. The 2030 Plan offers no clue as to whether it will restrain or accelerate the increase in these costs.
  • High-amenity student services. The Plan indicates that it will expand student services beyond the traditional goal of providing an education. As noted above, UVa will provide more counseling and career services, construct a new Health and Wellness Center, foster “resilience” at a Contemplative Sciences Center, expand its commitment to multiculturalism, and raise funding for an “athletics master plan.” There is no indication of how much any of this will cost or how it will be paid for.

One last observation: While the Plan alludes to “diversity,” the term is always paired with “inclusion.” The document does not once discuss intellectual diversity. By the standards of higher education today (a low bar, to be sure), UVa tolerates a fair number of conservative and centrist scholars. They are a minority, to be sure, but they do exist. Whether UVa will remain committed to preserving a diversity of viewpoints, however, is an open question. The strategic plan does not identify it as a priority.

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21 responses to “UVa’s New Strategic Plan: Lofty Goals, New Programs… Mo’ Money”

  1. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Research is a major financial driver of universities. It’s not included in the discussion of finances. I realize that the list does not include all university funding sources, but the overhead charged on research has great influence on what is/ is not done. The relative importance of research dollars also influences many decisions.

  2. When accounting for financial aid, lower-income students can attend UVa for less than any other public university in Virginia (save William & Mary). The key to making this high-aid strategy work is enrolling one of the lowest percentage of lower-income students in the state.

    That tells you everything right there. Well, except for the “intellectual diversity” part.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Jefferson weeps.

    1. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

      (Of course, in historical fairness, we’d have to conclude that he may have really had in mind the education of the white sons of the relatively-wealthy landed gentry.)

  4. VN picks up on a good point. If UVA and W&M were trying to do their High Tuition/High Aid model with ODU’s student demographic, it would fall apart financially. It only works because UVA and W&M are selective (they are looking for good standardized test and GPA stats). Unfortunately, high school academic achievement and standardized tests are pretty strongly correlated with family income and school districts. Top private schools often have more students from the bottom 20% than top publics. Plutocratic Harvard has a relatively modest 4.5% of its students coming from the bottom 20%, but UVA and W&M do even worse at 2.8% and 2% respectively. ODU has 5.5% and UCLA has 8.3% as points of comparison.

    I’m not saying colleges should admit unqualified students (to make up for underperforming primary and secondary schools), I’m just pointing out that publics like UVA and W&M are largely in the business of taking upper middle income students and turning out upper middle income graduates. This doesn’t do too much to create a dynamic economy and expand opportunity.

  5. It still galls me for some reason that this strategic fund can’t be described for what it likely is. It is likely in large part a reapplication of surpluses coming from the tax-exempt medical center. This acknowledgement made it into the footnote of a presentation to a General Assembly committee, but no percentage was given and no official will dare utter it. Nor will anyone ever provide acknowledgement or detail about how higher education research is actually funded in the US. The UK and Australia freely acknowledged that tuition funds research, to a significant extent, in public reports for their legislatures. In the U.S. any acknowledgement comes in the form of inference and footnotes, and real data points requires forensic accounting.

  6. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    In my view, this latest UVA 2030 “strategic plan” is yet another collection of vague virtue signaling generalities designed to obscure the truth of how UVa. really operates, and to obsure what UVa plans to do to promote its own interests and future (namely the interest of its faculty and administrators), at expense of its students, and all other in state students. I hope to expand on this comment soon.

    Meanwhile, Izzo, a keen observer of how universities operate financially, and others raises many fine and important points. One of them is discussed in my earlier Bacon Rebellion article found at:


    This article tells how many large universities siphon off student tuition and fees dollars away from teaching and education of their students to promote and fund university research that benefits only professors and administrators pocketbooks, at student and patient expense. This no doubt helped fund the UVA Strategic Investment Fund, which I believe now primarily funds research at student expense.

    1. Reed, I went back and reread it and that was a really good piece you wrote on higher education research spending. Given that students are $1.6 trillion in debt (unless it is all forgiven by a presidential candidate and congress), and the taxpayer is on the hook for guaranteeing those loans, you would think more effort would be spend trying to decipher what all that spending is really buying and then determining if we really want federally-subsidized loans supporting it.

  7. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    While the political chattering class, left wing division, focuses its ire and bile on Great Corporations, much real financial damage being done to the working and middle classes can be blamed on the non-profit sectors: non-profit hospitals, higher education, political money transparent or hidden, various agenda-driven foundations and the greatest non-profit wealth thief of all — government itself. I’d mention the religious establishment but then I’d be branded anti-clerical. (But I just mentioned it.) Just how much wealth is being sucked away from real people and held in that part of the economy would be interesting to know.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Steve here makes an important, true and sage comment. It jives with a comment made in today’s Wall Street Journal, stating:

      “The prospects for change in (Central America) are not promising. Ideas matter, and for generations the global left – mostly from Europe and the US – has treated the region as its sandbox, where it goes to play with policies that don’t sell at home. Central America is macerated in the collectivist bunk of this elite, who promise utopia and deliver special-interest mercantilism and corrupt statism.”

      Now, I fear that this collectivist bunk does sell in America, thanks to our colleges and universities run by leftists. If this continues here in America is our fate destined to join the fate of Central America?

      And guess what? The WSJ article written by Mary Anastasia O’Grady, dated today, is labelled “Guatemala does not need Bernie Sanders.”

  8. djrippert Avatar

    Student debt totals $1.6T and the total of all university endowments is somewhere around $800B. Sounds like we have the problem half-solved already. I wonder what ole Jim Ryan would think of the government cutting the student debt problem in half by confiscating the endowments of the mismanaged colleges and universities who put those students into debt.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Lots of complaints and blame (as usual) but also some reasonable comments.

    The complaint/blame seems to vary widely and I sort of wonder if one COULD write a “correct” strategic plan – what it would be!

    UVA is considered by many beyond the nay-sayers to be a top-tier institution – in the country – and the world – at a cost that is far lower than many other higher ed AND they do strive to include SOME who could not afford it otherwise – and who is to really say that they do it with other folks tuition rather than the proceeds from their medical center and research grants, etc?

    Beyond what some say the strategic plan might actually should be – how would that happen? Are we calling for government to force the desired changes?

    BR is turning into a rant-a-minute blog at times… on some issues and I’m thankful we have the expanded roster where we have some variety upon which to expand the rants!


    1. I agree with James V. Koch that policy changes at higher-ed institutions should come from the boards of visitors, not the legislature — and I have made the point repeatedly. So, Larry, you are creating another red herring issue.

    2. Just curious: Which part of my presentation in this blog post constituted a “rant”?

      Did I employ insults and/or florid language? Did I cherry-pick data? Did I misrepresent anyone’s point of view? Or did I just disagree with LarryG?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Nope. He is calling for Government to REQUIRE changes in BOV… that’s Government Jim!

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: rant-a-minute – the tone and continuous nature that plows the same ground over and over… that’s a rant.

  10. “they do strive to include SOME who could not afford it otherwise – and who is to really say that they do it with other folks tuition rather than the proceeds from their medical center and research grants, etc?”

    If a university uses proceeds from research grants to give financial aid, they’ll get in trouble quickly and won’t get future grants. Using patient fees to directly pay financial aid also wouldn’t work. They accumulate operational surpluses from patient fees over time. They used to call these quasi-endowments and they were associated with hospital operations. I’ve said many times I believe this is the main source of the reclassified strategic investment fund. If you look at the objectives the university has given to that fund, increased financial aid or lowering tuition is not one of them. You are back to the Dragas fiasco of a few years ago.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Plus, we must remember that much unfunded (non grant) faculty research is called falsely instruction activity so as to be paid for directly out of student tuition and fees (perhaps.)

      And then we come to question of what is research? Is it national conferences and international junkets, travel, and sabbaticals, for example, a huge cost in many universities?

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Research grants can and do employ students – who can be picked according to need. Just remember as several here have already said over and over – money IS fungible!

      1. Perhaps, but if you move research grants into financial aid budget you’ll get in trouble.

        Oddly enough, given your statement on fungibility, you argued in the past that tuition, which goes into a GENERAL fund, cannot help fund research.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Perhaps some of our friends here are confusing STEM research funded by the federal government with the typical bunkum research of most liberal art professors that are funded with their students’ tuition and fees, which tuition and fees are also frequently transferred over the STEM research departments that are regularly operating at chronic losses, esp. in recent past after so many universities like lemmings jumped on the research bandwagon on basis of Obama’s promises that were never fulfilled, and indeed were made at very time research grants went into steep decline. Think UVA, for example

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