Report Finds Irrational, Inequitable, and Unjust Funding in VA Higher Ed

Higher-Ed Quality & Affordability

July 14, 2021

Report Finds Irrational, Inequitable, and Unjust Funding in VA Higher Ed

Privatization of higher ed and regressive financial aid program to blame

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 14, 2021)—A new report by Education Reform Now sharply criticizes Virginia’s higher education finance system on affordability and equity grounds. The state boasts some of the highest public college tuition and fee levels in the country and skyrocketing student loan debt, especially for students from lower-income backgrounds and students who identify as racial minorities, while funneling tens of millions to well-off families and dubious private colleges.

“As President Biden tackles college affordability and colleges that rip-off students and taxpayers, this report should be a wake-up call for Virginia’s elected leaders to do the same,” says Michael Dannenberg, a co-author and vice president for strategic initiatives and higher education at Education Reform Now. “Students and colleges that need the most should get the most. Enough of the behind closed door decisions that make the affluent more affluent.”

The report identifies four main drivers for inequities:

  1. Virginia lacks a transparent and consistent funding formula linked to institution need, access, affordability, and success. For instance, George Mason serves more than twice as many students receiving Pell Grants as the University of Virginia (UVA), yet receives a third of state appropriations per FTE student.
  2. The Commonwealth misdirects financial aid. The Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program (VTAG) is non-need and non-academic merit based—directing roughly $10 million in funding each year to Virginia students who neither have a demonstrated financial need nor indication of heighted academic merit. Liberty University takes in $17 million a year in VTAG funds despite a 17% Black student graduation rate.
  3. Virginia has divested from public higher education. Christopher Newport University, located in U.S. House of Representatives Chairman Bobby Scott’s Congressional District has the second highest average net price of any public, four-year college in the nation. UVA has the fifth highest in-state tuition and fees among public flagships. Additionally, Virginia ranks 44th in the nation in state funding for community colleges per FTE student.
  4. A rising percentage of Virginia’s postsecondary graduates leave with student loan debt, with 90% of students attending the two public HBCU’s graduating with debt, half of whom owe upwards of $40k.

You can access the full report here.

Supplementally, the authors will also release a series of blogs unpacking specific funding inequities at Liberty University, Christopher Newport University, and William & Mary University.

The report is the second in a series examining Virginia’s veiled commitment to diversity and socioeconomic mobility in higher education. The previous report detailing the racial and socioeconomic segregation in Virginia’s colleges and universities is available here.

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