BROWN: Looking close to home

The University should target growing minority populations in the state by offering them more financial aid

As the University struggles to maintain admission standards as well as remain financially stable, changing demographics is an issue that cannot be ignored. Both Virginia and many of the states that supply our out-of-state enrollment have seen declines in both black and white populations in younger age groups. The University needs a new recruitment strategy to handle these changes. By focusing now on recruiting Virginia students from rising populations in Hispanic and Asian communities, the University can maintain a diverse student body both racially and socioeconomically while leaving room to bring in higher-income students from both out-of-state and international sources to keep the University afloat.

Out-of-state enrollment has been a controversial topic in Virginia for some time. The University’s relatively high percentage of non-Virginians compared to other state colleges and Universities has angered some lawmakers in Richmond and some families of denied applicants. The University’s response has always been the same: that out-of-state students are necessary to the financial success of the school. In-state tuition, though rising rapidly, is still much less than tuition for out-of-state students, or tuition for most private institutions. I propose that the University focus on making itself more affordable for the rising in-state populations with lower incomes, and make up the difference in funding through decreased out-of-state tuition assistance.

In-state students are not generating much income for the University through their tuition anyway. So why not focus financial aid on students from Virginia, who are cheaper to pay for, and keep in-state enrollment high? In the next 14 years, there will be a whopping 39 percent increase in Virginian Hispanic students reaching college age, while there will be an approximate 10 percent decrease in the white and black populations of this age group. Why not develop relationships with these growing communities now, making college a realistic goal for students who may not consider it otherwise? By aggressively recruiting these students while making in-state aid easier to acquire, the University could not only enrich its own in-state diversity — an area that has been lacking — but could also enlarge its in-state applicant pool as well as bring long-term prospects to low-income communities throughout the state. Over decades, this could even increase the number of students from these populations that could pay full tuition.

Many will criticize my suggestion for a lack of consideration for out-of-state students and what they bring to the University. As an out-of-state student myself, I think the way the University brings students from all over the country and the world together is vital to our academic and cultural vitality, so these worries are understandable. But out-of-state and international students are coming to the University not because it is cheap, but because it is a world-class institution with a vibrant student body, a vibrancy that will only increase with more diverse in-state enrollment recruited through increased Virginia financial aid. And while some out-of-state students will probably be forced to look elsewhere, there is already an excess of out-of-state applicants. This year more than twice as many out-of-state students than in-state students applied for early action admissions, though there are only half as many spots for out-of-staters. And the financial aid that out-of-state students will not get can make a much bigger impact on the financial obligations of an in-state student, percentage wise.

Of course, ideally there would be no need for these kinds of decisions. If funding weren’t an issue, the University could simply focus on getting the best students regardless of financial means. But unfortunately this isn’t possible, and the University must focus on how to achieve this goal within its financial limitations. While diversity shouldn’t have a price tag, financially it makes much more sense to focus aid efforts within the state, which would affect more students overall and make the University of Virginia more representative of the state it serves. Adapting to future change is always difficult, but I think by adjusting recruitment and financial aid strategies to increase the diversity of in state enrollment, the University could thrive. I hope that at the very least this becomes a discussion we can have as a school.

Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns normally run Thursdays.


Published January 23, 2014 in Opinion





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