Sustained Dialogue hosts financial aid forum
Students, University administrators meet to discuss AccessUVA, socioeconomic diversity, access to education
University student group Sustained Dialogue hosted an Open Dialogue Tuesday in the Amphitheater to discuss financial aid and the future of higher education.
Robert Rust, public relations chair for Sustained Dialogue, said the group wanted to sponsor an event relevant to the University’s recent changes to AccessUVa, the student financial aid program at the University.
“We thought that it was a topic about which most people would have an opinion,” he said. “Since many of the new U.Va. students have only been at the University for a few weeks, we wanted to cover something on which most people could offer a viewpoint. Second, we felt that the AccessUVa decision was one that would have a significant impact on a large group of U.Va. students, so it was worthwhile spending time to talk about it.”
Sustained Dialogue chair, Mallory Combemale, a fourth-year College student, began the event by splitting the attendees into two small groups, allowing students to better relate to each other and to see the diversity within the student body in a smaller setting. Melody Bianchetto, associate vice president for finance at the University, and three other University finance representatives were in attendance to hear student concerns about financial aid.
Students at the event expressed concerns about how to pay for higher education. Mike Pelletier, a fourth-year College student, said he decided to join the National Guard to fund his education.
“I knew the military was something I had to do,” Pelletier said. “I grew up really poor. I enlisted in the National Guard…and decided to use my GI bill to go [to U.Va.].”
Many students said one method of making college more affordable for them was the Virginia 529 college savings plan, through which many of their parents prepaid their education. In many cases, students claimed the plan made an in-state college education much more attractive than an out-of-state option.
“The cost for college is growing,” Bianchetto said. “[The University is] looking four to six years in advance and trying to balance the strategic needs to deliver the services. AccessUVa will still be the best financial system for public higher education.”
Other students at the event criticized what they called a veiled but nonetheless worrisome split in the socioeconomic status at the University.
“At home it was obvious who had more or less money — they lived in different neighborhoods or in the mansion down the street,” said Carrie Bevis, vice chair for moderators for Sustained Dialogue. “But in college, it’s the first time we’re all living in the same dorm and those differences are a lot harder to [distinguish]… It makes it obvious that the differences in socioeconomic status are surface-level differences in comparison to who our peers and friends actually are.”
Rust said Sustained Dialogue hopes to host more of these events in the future.
“[These events] allow for some really fantastic interchanges due to the wide variety of people who often attend,” he said. “Throughout the year, expect to see more Open Dialogues centered around current events affecting the community like this one.”