Students Financial Aid Protest at UVA Focuses on Low-Income Loan Program

Students at the University of Virginia came out to protest yesterday, as the schools shift away from traditional student aid and towards a more loan based financing system.

Protesters warn the new program will hurt low-income student's because it will require students to take out up to $28,000 over the course of four years.

Students gave personal accounts outside a Board of Visitors meeting at the campus in Charlottesville in an effort to garner support for the AcessUVa program which has helped them and their families. The school board voted to accept the changes in August.

"For many low income students, U.Va. will simply become unaffordable," event organizer Hajar Ahmed, a fourth year student, told student paper The Daily Cavalier. "Disguising loans as aid to the poorest of the poor is despicable."

In a press released that was published in August the university stated the change to "shifting economic conditions, particularly during and after the recession beginning in 2008, [which] increased demand for financial aid and pushed the subsequent cost of AccessUVa beyond projections."

In 2004-2005, the program's first year, the university's "institutional contribution" was $11.5 million, with 24 percent of undergraduates qualifying for need-based aid, according to the news release. In 2012-13, the total had risen to $40.2 million with a third of students qualifying for need-based aid.

The school insists the changes will help slow growth of the AccessUVa program by $6 million per year, yet opponents claim the social and financial costs to students will be far greater.

"This action raises the cost of a U.Va. degree substantially for students from low-income families, hurting our diversity and coming at a time when we are already seen as elitist and unwelcoming," former University Rector Helen Dragas told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in August.