The infrastructure for Virginia Tech’s access and affordability initiative, with the goal of offering a quality educational experience to all students regardless of income, is beginning to take shape.

University leaders have adopted a formal charge for the initiative and established a steering committee, a financial feasibility working group, and a student experience working group.

Announced in October, the initiative reflects a central aspiration for the university, as identified by President Tim Sands and the Board of Visitors.

“It is increasingly difficult for lower- and middle-income students to afford a four-year public education without significant financial stress that limits their ability to engage in the rich opportunities available for learning, research, and discovery,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “Providing an accessible and affordable experience, especially for those who are underrepresented and underserved, is part of our land-grant mission to uplift the communities we serve.”

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. Co-chairing the initiative’s steering committee, Pratt and Holt have worked quickly to formalize the charge and enlist the input of a wide-ranging group of stakeholders.

The straightforward charge underscores the university’s commitment to its mission and to the commonwealth, and it identifies the two main components that will drive the initiative’s success: “In support of the president’s access and affordability initiative, which seeks to provide a Virginia Tech experience financially within reach for everyone, regardless of income, the Access and Affordability Steering Committee will provide recommendations to the executive leadership team on strategies to make Virginia Tech more affordable and accessible for underserved students, addressing financial feasibility and student success.”

The financial feasibility working group is co-chaired by Jeff Earley, vice provost for academic resource management; Luisa Havens Gerardo, vice provost for enrollment management; and Tim Hodge, associate vice president for budget and financial planning. The group will determine financial strategies to support affordability goals for underserved students while answering two primary questions:

  • What would it take to close the gap with the university’s peer institutions for tuition and the average net price difference for Pell-eligible and Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP) students?
  • How do we enhance affordability for students who are not Pell-eligible/VGAP?

The student experience working group is co-chaired by Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs; Frances Keene, interim vice president for student affairs; and Ellington Graves, associate vice provost for inclusion and diversity. The group will determine how to enhance aspects of the student experience (e.g., time to graduation, student retention, graduation rates, transformational experiences,  etc.) to improve access and success, focused on a key question:

  • What strategies would help advance our commitment to support student success at Virginia Tech, including those who are most vulnerable based on a variety of identities?

In recent years the university has made strides on both fronts - to enhance its ability to meet the financial needs of students and to implement strategies to improve the student experience through measures such as time-to-degree and retention. Still, Pratt and Holt said that university leaders are eager to develop new and robust strategies that meet the needs and aspirations of every student - one by one.

Closely aligned with the university’s strategic plan, The Virginia Tech Difference: Advancing Beyond Boundaries, the access and affordability initiative is scoped as a three-year effort with work beginning in earnest in the spring semester. During his annual State of the University address on Jan. 18, President Sands will outline additional details.

Pratt and Holt will guide the university through the process of identifying goals, selecting key performance indicators, setting milestones, and proposing viable 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.

The full membership of the steering committee and the two working groups can be viewed on the Strategic Affairs website.

The initiative’s progress will be shared through VTx and published in the Virginia Tech Daily Email.

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