Student Senate hears presentations on tuition hikes, new College enrollment policy

UFUSED also announces Economic Accessibility Pledge for CIOs

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Sydney Bradley, third-year College student and co-chair of Student Council's Academic Affairs committee, presents the College's new low-enrollment policy.

Thomas Roades | Cavalier Daily

At the final Student Senate meeting of the semester, Melody Bianchetto, the University’s vice president for finance, answered students’ questions regarding proposed tuition hikes which the Board of Visitors will be considering at its meeting next week. 

The proposal which will be presented to the Board states that increases would be between 2.5 percent and 3.75 percent for all in-state and out-of-state students in the College and the Curry School. In and out-of-state students returning to the Engineering, Batten, Commerce, Architecture and Nursing schools would see increases of 2.5 to 3.75 percent. 

Entering in-state students in the Architecture, Batten, Commerce, Engineering and Nursing schools would see larger tuition hikes, with increases of 9.5 percent to 21 percent. Out-of-state students entering these schools would see increases of 6 percent to 9.5 percent, according to the proposal.

Prior to Bianchetto’s question and answer session, Devin Willis, a second-year College student and secretary for the Black Student Alliance, spoke on the proposed tuition increases.

Willis posed a series of questions for Bianchetto regarding the increases, challenging her to address how the hikes will affect low-income students and expressing concerns about the University’s commitment to diversity.

“Is it fair to ask a significant proportion of our student body to take that risk and depend on student aid?” Willis asked.

Bianchetto conceded that tuition hikes have been prevalent in recent years. 

“This is the third year in a row that continuing students have seen increases,” she said. 

However, she said the school has been committed to keeping those increases below the rate of inflation. 

Contracted independent organization representatives were also scheduled to comment on the tuition hikes, in a Q&A session with Bianchetto. Representatives from the BSA voiced concerns that tuition hikes will deter students — especially low-income ones — from enrolling in schools like McIntire that are becoming significantly more expensive.

From the audience, Wes Gobar, a fourth-year College student and BSA president, asked how the University would incentivize students of color to apply given the events of Aug. 11 and 12 in addition to the tuition hikes.

“I just really wanted to speak for a little bit on the urgency of this,” he said. “I know the University is currently seeing a decline in applications from African-Americans.”

He felt the long-term effects, too, could be damaging to the University’s prestige and academic excellence.

“I’m most worried the profile of our school will change, our school will be less socioeconomically diverse,” Gobar said.  “It weakens our standing as a public university.” 

Though the University has seen tuition hikes, the endowment funds are expanding. The Strategic Investment Fund, for example, was founded last year and will match donations to support University need-based scholarships. 

One of the largest donations was made to the School of Engineering by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, said Rachel Most, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs. 

The Board of Visitors will be considering whether to adopt the proposed increases at their upcoming December meeting. 

Sydney Bradley, a third-year College student and co-chair of Student Council’s Academic Affairs Committee, also presented at the Student Senate alongside Most and Francesca Fiorani, associate dean for the Arts and Humanities, on a new low-enrollment policy in the College.

Bradley’s presentation, the first of the night, dealt with the College’s new enrollment policy. The policy, discussed at a recent Student Council meeting, would place courses with fewer than eight students enrolled under review.

Bradley said the policy will be instituted in the spring semester of 2018, and is designed to make sure the College’s course offerings are aligned with student demand and interest. 

“The Dean’s office is evaluating courses across the college and tracking enrollment numbers,” she said. “The goal is to … improve the academic excellence of the College.”

Bradley said professors will be given a chance to defend their courses as essential to the curriculum if placed under review. 

“The department will be given the opportunity to defend classes that are central to their pedagogical mission,” Bradley said. 

Bradley said this should protect certain courses that are necessary for students to complete their academic requirements or those professors feel are central to the department’s purposes. 

“Certain types of classes — language, studio art, perhaps honor seminars — could be considered protected if they are defended by the professors,” Bradley said. “The goal is also to establish a culture where departments do have control over their mission.”

She said some classes will be cut as a result of the policy, particularly very specialized, niche classes or those with consistently low enrollment. Bradley explained that the elimination of some such classes will free up important resources like professors and classroom space to be utilized in more generally applicable courses. 

Following Bradley’s presentation, Most and Fiorani took questions from the audience. One audience member took issue with the possibility that smaller, more specialized classes could be cut — as a student in the Women, Gender and Sexuality department, she said many of the classes tend to be fairly specialized, and worried the department would suffer under the new policy.

Most reassured her that her professors would be given the chance to speak up in defense of classes that are truly necessary for the department’s offerings. Fiorani added that without a certain amount of students in a course, there is no chance for the meaningful, challenging discussions and interactions that are crucial to learning in College courses. 

“Eight seems to us a good number to protect that kind of interaction … It’s really at the core of the specialized knowledge you acquire third and fourth year,” Fiorani said.

Francesca Callicotte, a third-year College student and president of United For Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity, made the final presentation of the night. 

She described one of the organization’s recent efforts — encouraging CIOs to sign a pledge to make activities and membership accessible to low-income students. After sending the pledge out to approximately 800 student groups, they were able to collect 251 pledges total from University CIOs.

“Everyone wanted to help out in whatever way they could,” Callicotte said. “It shows that CIOs at this University are trying to make an effort to make their CIOs accessible. I’m really proud of my University for this.”

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