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AccessUVa Town Hall draws debate

Tensions still heated following this summer's alterations to financial aid plan

University administrators joined students in a town hall meeting Monday evening to address recent budget cuts to AccessUVa, the University’s financial aid program.

After the Board of Visitors’ revision of the program to remove all-grant aid packages — students in the lowest income bracket must now take on loans as part of their aid packages — numerous students, parents and graduates have voiced opposition to the change.

Student Council will consider a bill at its representative body meeting Tuesday which expresses opposition to the Board’s decision. The change is expected to save the University $6 million annually when it is fully implemented in 2017.

The town hall, co-hosted by Council and United Students for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity, was meant to offer an in-depth look at the change and encourage students to ask questions of the expert panel, which included Dean of Admissions Greg Roberts, Associate Dean of Students Laurie Casteen, Assistant Vice President Megan Lowe and Scott Miller, interim director of financial aid.

Lowe said they determined that becoming a need-aware institution would not be appropriate as a public university, however the administration did consider several alternatives to the reforms.

“One idea was to cap grants on an annual budget basis,” Lowe said. “Another idea was to package out-of-state students with the same package as in-state students. Another idea was to eliminate all grant awards to out-of-state students.”

The University is still active in collecting donations for financial aid programs, which could help to make the program more sustainable, Casteen said. “It’s important to recognize that the president works to raise money for the financial aid program,” Casteen said.

Many members of the audience said the change will ultimately hurt the admissions process, driving away talented students who cannot afford the University’s tuition rates, but Casteen said she was confident the University’s reputation would ensure it continued to receive top applicants.

“The changes of the financial aid packages will affect prospective students in attending the University,” she said. “However, I feel that the U.Va. experience is what’s brought you here and what has kept you here, and that’s what gets them in the door.”

The impact on the diversity of the student body, however, remained a salient concern among panelists and audience members alike.

“U.Va. already is not an [economically] diverse place, and I strongly believe these changes will affect diversity in the future,” said third-year College student Katy Hutto, president of United for Undergraduate Socio-Economic Diversity.

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