A Report Card on the University of Virginia’s Efforts to Become More Socioeconomically Diverse

In the latest JBHE analysis of Pell Grant recipients at the nation’s 30 highest-ranked universities, the University of Virginia ranked 28th in percentage of low-income students. Only 7.3 percent of undergraduate students at the University of Virginia in 2007 qualified for federal Pell Grant awards. In contrast, 35 percent of all undergraduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles received Pell Grants. These federal scholarship grants are generally awarded to students who come from families with incomes below $40,000 a year.

Five years ago, in an effort to attract more low-income students, the University of Virginia launched its AccessUVA financial aid program. Under the program, loans were eliminated for all low-income students and were replaced with scholarship grants. Under the plan, low-income students were all those who came from families that earned below twice the federal family poverty level. (For a four-person family, the most recent poverty threshold is slightly over $21,000.)

Since AccessUVA was instituted, the university has increased its financial aid budget from $14.1 million to $31.3 million. During the period, the percentage of undergraduate students qualifying for financial aid has increased from 15.3 percent to nearly 27 percent. And over the past three years, the number of students who have qualified for Pell Grant awards has risen by nearly 23 percent.

The university also established the Rainey Academic Program, a summer bridge program for at-risk students who receive AccessUVA grants. As a result, the university has been able to maintain its high black student graduation rate, which for many years has been the best among all state-operated universities in the nation.