ALJASSAR: Lend a helping hand

CIOs should support the Student Access Initiative

Last August, in a decision that reflected the tone-deafness of the University administration, the Board of Visitors voted to remodel AccessUVa, the University’s financial aid program. Changes that become operative in the 2014-15 academic year for incoming first-years will eliminate grant-only offerings and introduce loans into financial aid packages for low-income students.

While the Board’s decision is consistent with the University’s “commitment to a need-blind admission,” cutting grant money and encumbering AccessUVa recipients with loans will certainly deter prospective low-income students. What’s at stake here is the University’s socioeconomic diversity. Students from lower income brackets carry unique experiences and perspectives that are valuable to our community. They are our classmates, our leaders, our friends — and you may not know who they are.

Third-year College student Olivia Beavers proposes a student-based initiative in order to support current and future AccessUVa recipients through the AccessUVa program. Her project, Student Access Initiative (SAI), aims to work with CIOs and student groups over the next academic year to raise $3,500 from each participating group, the maximum yearly cost of a need-based loan for low-income, in-state undergraduates. All funds collected will be given to the AccessUVa program and then redistributed to AccessUVa recipients anonymously. The goal, while challenging, is feasible given that fundraising will extend through most of next year. Additionally, smaller CIOs and student groups will be encouraged to pool with other student groups in order to meet the $3,500 goal.

Although SAI will not be able to recompense students for all the changes made by the Board, the initiative has the potential to contribute a significant amount of money to the program. Each CIO and student group benefits from the participation of individuals from lower income brackets. Honor, for example, may value the perspectives of support officers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in conducting trials and educating the rest of the University. Reporters and writers for The Cavalier Daily supported by AccessUVa may be able to present unique stories and opinions informed by their experiences. Organizations ranging from a cappella to service groups will lose potential members and leaders who are unable to assume the financial burden imposed by student loans.

Furthermore, SAI provides an opportunity for CIOs and other organizations to exercise student self-governance and effectuate change within the University community. Fundraising through such groups also demonstrates the importance of AccessUVa to the University’s students and administration.

Opponents of SAI may contend that the initiative shifts discourse away from policy and fails to address the Board’s decision. It’s important to note that SAI is not an endorsement of the decision. Other organizations have aimed to reverse the Board’s vote and have reached a dead-end. SAI moves beyond stagnant policy discussion and aims to tackle the issue directly.

It’s also possible that SAI will encourage further policy discussion. If organizational support for SAI becomes widespread, then perhaps the policy issues will be brought to the awareness of each member in the community.

Beavers hopes to launch SAI on Founder’s Day in April. Each CIO and student group should participate in order to preserve socioeconomic diversity on Grounds, show solidarity with low-income students and fight to protect future talented members who may decline acceptance to the University to avoid the burden of loans.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published March 21, 2014 in Opinion

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