(Norm Shafer/for the Washington Post)

The University of Virginia is known for having one of the most generous financial aid programs in public higher education. But it also has a relatively low share of students from low-income families.

That is crucial context for the debate over changes to the aid program known as AccessUVa. On Sunday, The Post reported on a $4 million gift to U-Va. connected to that debate.

The gift from alumnus John Griffin, for financial aid, quelled some of the furor that arose after the university’s governing board (of which Griffin is a member) voted last summer to begin requiring certain students in economic need to take out loans as part of their aid packages. Previously, AccessUVa had exempted those students from loans.

One of the chief goals of the aid program, which began in 2004, is to broaden access to the prestigious public flagship in Charlottesville. A look at data on the share of students who have enough financial need to qualify for federal Pell grants shows that U-Va. still faces a huge challenge in its quest for economic diversity.

In 2011-12, the latest year for which comparisons were possible, about 12 percent of U-Va.’s undergraduates received Pell grants. That was one of the lowest shares among about 700 public four-year institutions in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

U-Va. was tied on this metric with the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey. The University of Delaware had a slightly lower share, 11 percent.

Not counting certain postgraduate schools, service academies and specialty institutions, no other colleges in the country had a lower share of Pell recipients. About 680 public colleges and universities had a higher share.

Among them were many highly regarded institutions: the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (16 percent); the University of Wisconsin at Madison (16 percent); the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (21 percent); the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (20 percent); and the University of Texas at Austin (28 percent).

The University of California at Berkeley, which U.S. News and World Report considers the nation’s top public university, had a remarkable share of Pell recipients among its students: 33 percent. The University of California at Los Angeles, tied with U-Va. for second place in the U.S. News public university ranking, had an even larger share: 36 percent.

However, U-Va. has made some progress. In the 2008-9 school year, 8 percent of its undergraduates received Pell grants. The 2008 financial crisis and a subsequent expansion of federal funding drove up the number of Pell recipients at many universities around the country.

Among selected public colleges and universities in Maryland and Virginia, here are the Pell-recipient shares for 2011-12:


St. Mary’s College of Maryland: 15 percent

University of Maryland at College Park: 19 percent

●Salisbury University: 22 percent

●University of Maryland University College: 24 percent

●Towson University: 25 percent

University of Maryland Baltimore County: 28 percent

●Frostburg State University: 36 percent

●University of Baltimore: 47 percent

●Bowie State University: 51 percent

●University of Maryland Eastern Shore: 60 percent

●Coppin State University: 81 percent

●Morgan State University: 89 percent


●James Madison University: 14 percent

●University of Mary Washington: 16 percent

●Virginia Military Institute: 17 percent

●Christopher Newport University: 18 percent

Virginia Tech: 18 percent

●Longwood University: 22 percent

George Mason University: 28 percent

●Radford University: 28 percent

●Virginia Commonwealth University: 29 percent

●Old Dominion University: 32 percent

●Norfolk State University: 67 percent

●Virginia State University: 67 percent