Presidential initiative focuses on access, affordability
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands has launched an initiative to dramatically improve the university’s access and affordability for Virginia students.
“A Virginia Tech education can be life-changing for graduates and their families and have a positive impact on their communities and the commonwealth,” Sands said. “Making this experience more accessible and affordable, especially for those who are underrepresented and underserved, is a foundational part of our land-grant mission to provide a quality educational experience that prepares graduates for service and success.”
Sands and the Board of Visitors have identified access and affordability as leading strategic priorities for the university. While Virginia Tech’s graduation rates, mid-career salaries, and loan repayment rates are among the highest in the nation, tuition and fees at public institutions in Virginia are higher than national medians for similar institutions. The scholarships and grants Virginia Tech provides to reduce the cost of attendance for students and families are lower than the university’s peers, especially for low- and middle-income students.
“Virginia Tech provides a rich educational experience with opportunities for learning, research, and discovery inside and outside of the classroom. However, students who are financially stressed and disadvantaged may not benefit from all that the university has to offer,” said Sands, noting that the university has found that students who struggle financially often do not have the time and resources to devote to networking and work-based learning such as internships and undergraduate research and are less likely to be successful after graduation.
In the fall 2022 semester, the university reached a signature milestone in the president’s Beyond Boundaries vision for a diverse and inclusive environment with 40 percent of the incoming class comprised of underrepresented and underserved students. The president’s access and affordability initiative seeks to ensure that the Virginia Tech experience is financially within reach for everyone, regardless of income. Sands named Menah Pratt, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity, and Matt Holt, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, to lead the initiative.
“In order for Virginia Tech to continue to be a destination for talent, we have to offer competitive financial aid packages, particularly for our most financially vulnerable families,” said Pratt. “Our support should not be limited to scholarships that cover tuition and fees. We should also provide support to cover transformational experiences during the course of their time at Virginia Tech.”
The 40 percent milestone also offers the university a competitive challenge in “yielding” prospective students, or getting them enrolled after acceptance. Reducing unmet financial needs will help Virginia Tech retain accepted Virginia students who receive competitive financial aid and scholarship offers from in-state and out-of-state schools.
“Land-grant universities such as Virginia Tech were designed to provide educational opportunities to all members of the communities that we serve, including those prospective students who are financially challenged,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, who co-sponsors the initiative with Sands. “By providing financial aid to students in need, we enhance the diversity of the student population, thereby enabling delivery of an enriching learning experience for all students. This allows us to also recruit, develop, and deploy the breadth of talent necessary to advance the economic development of the commonwealth and the nation.”
The university supports a variety of ongoing programs to offset the cost of attendance. In June, for example, the Board of Visitors allocated an additional $5.1 million to undergraduate financial aid programs, raising total institutional support for students to more than $39.4 million for this academic year – although Sands, noting that the figure is low compared to peers, said the university must significantly increase the figure in order to remain competitive.
Pratt and Holt will guide the university through the process of identifying goals, selecting key performance indicators, setting milestones, and proposing funding mechanisms. In doing so, they will engage stakeholders across the enterprise, including academic affairs, enrollment management, financial aid, government and corporate relations, communications and marketing, finance and budget, and advancement. While the initiative is scoped as a three-year effort, the Board of Visitors will review draft goals at its November meeting.
“This initiative is a tremendous opportunity to shape and fulfill our approach to meeting this key facet of our land-grant aspirations,” said Holt. “We look forward to the universitywide collaborations – and to enhance access and affordability for all Virginia students and their families.”