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Petition to overturn Access UVa decision gains ground

"I am not a loan" receives 7,394 signatures

A petition provocatively titled “I am not a loan,” requesting the University overturn the changes to AccessUVa instituted by the Board of Visitors this summer, has gathered more than 7,300 signatures online.

The petition is part of a larger campaign of students, parents and graduates across the nation who are principally focused on reducing student debt.

“My plans for producing change at U.Va. are simple,” said University alumna Mary Nguyen Barry, a higher education research and policy analyst at the Education Trust who started the petition. “I am trying to mobilize as many current students, alumni, parents and concerned citizens as possible to call on the Board of Visitors to reinstate their no-loan policy for students from the lowest-income families.”

Barry initiated the petition Aug. 15 and soon after, a small group of students began pushing for increased awareness.

Hajar Ahmed, fourth-year College student and president of Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority as well as the vice president of the Multicultural Greek Council, expressed her discontent with the changes, saying they will ultimately result in a lack of diversity at the University.

“By disguising loans as financial aid, it will systematically discriminate [against] those students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and severely limit the diversity of the student population,” Ahmed said. “Such a decision would contradict the very ideals that Thomas Jefferson held for this University.”

The maximum amount of loans that students will take out under the revised AccessUVa program totals $28,000 throughout four years.

“This is nearly two-thirds of some of our families’ income,” Ahmed said. “Not only is that enough to turn students away from attending U.Va. but it could also force current undergraduates to drop out because of their inability to continue. Additionally students who do walk down the Lawn on graduation day will be at a severe financial disadvantage compared to wealthier students.”

But University officials have said the AccessUVa program was simply growing too fast for the school’s financial resources. The new loan program, which is expected to save the University $6 million annually once implemented, will be rolled into effect in the next four years, starting with the class of 2018.

Barry, however, emphasized the magnitude of the University’s financial resources, citing the school’s endowment of $5 billion.

“U.Va. is currently the single wealthiest public university per capita in our country,” she said. “But it also has one of the least economically diverse student bodies in the nation in terms of low-income student access.”

According to Department of Education data, the University ranks in the bottom 5 percent of colleges in terms of the percentage of students receiving of Pell Grants.

“If anything, U.Va. should be adding resources to the AccessUVA financial aid program, rather than cutting it,” Barry said. “U.Va. should prioritize financial aid to students from the lowest-income families. [This school] should not only be for the wealthy.”

Barry has requested permission to speak at next week’s Board of Visitors meeting to make a case for a revote on the AccessUVa changes.

“I was a recipient of the AccessUVa no-loan policy and quite literally, that program has changed my life,” Barry said. “Because I valued my education at U.Va. so much, and knew that it stemmed from a deep financial commitment from the University, I have always sought to give back to U.Va. by standing up for the financial aid program.”

The petition can be found here, with this link.