Fairfax School Board members urge U-Va. to reinstate aid program for needy students

November 21, 2013

Seven Fairfax County School Board members sent a letter to officials at the University of Virginia urging them to reinstate a financial aid program for the state’s poorer students.

In August, the U-Va. board of visitors voted to unravel parts of the AccessUVa program, which provides scholarships and grants to low- and middle-income students. U-Va. officials decided to cut parts of the program to lower rising costs. The school spends $40 million a year on AccessUVa and the new changes will save at least $6 million per year.

In a letter, the Fairfax School Board members expressed concern that the cuts to AccessUva will diminish opportunities for Fairfax graduates who attend the school.

School Board member Ryan McElveen (At Large), a 2004 graduate of U-Va., said that the Fairfax school system sends the most Virginia students to U-Va., with an average of 536 students a year.

The most controversial change to the AccessUVa program removed its “no-loan” policy, allowing students to attend the university without racking up significant debt. Under the revised program, students will have to take out federally subsidized loans.

In the letter, the Fairfax board members wrote that the changes shift the financial burden of the public education from the university to the students.

“The end of the no-loan program could have wide-ranging impacts both on individuals and the Commonwealth,” the board members wrote. “With the elimination of the program, low-income FCPS graduates may feel their only choice is to forego college altogether.”

Since 2005, Fairfax has sent 4,291 students to U-Va., the board members wrote, “many of whom benefited from the no-loan policy.”

With the growing enrollment in the county, the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-cost meals — a federal measure of poverty — has increased from 22 to 27 percent in the past five years. The board members wrote that the trend will likely continue and that more Fairfax applicants will need financial aid for college.

“For all of these reasons, we respectfully ask you to reconsider the elimination of the AccessUVa no-loan policy,” the board members wrote . The letter, dated Nov. 12, was signed by McElveen, board Chair Ilryong Moon (At Large), Vice Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee), Sandy Evans (Mason), Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), Jane Strauss (Dranesville) and Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill), also a U-Va., graduate.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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