A $2.2 billion fund that had been secretly established and funded at the University of Virginia over the past decade while tuition soared could be tapped to lower costs for students.
The Washington Post has reported that members of the UVA Board of Visitors discussed at its Nov. 11 meeting that the “strategic investment fund” is a potential source to lower tuition costs. Over the past seven years, tuition for UVA students has risen by 74 percent even as university officials were stockpiling cash in the fund.
The $2.2 billion fund — referred to as a slush fund by many observers — is separate from the university’s $6.8 billion endowment, among the largest for public universities in the U.S.
According to The Washington Post, Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax), a member of the Senate’s education committee and a critic of the university’s slush fund, advocates freezing tuition and is urging UVA to use money from its $2.2 billion fund to give refunds to families feeling pain from tuition hikes.
“I hesitate to see them adopt a new program when the real recognition should be no, actually we were collecting money we didn’t need in the first place,” Petersen told the Washington Post. “They’re sitting on so much cash vis-à-vis everybody else, including the state government.”
The existence of the $2.2 billion slush fund rankled lawmakers when they learned of its existence earlier this year.
While the UVA Board of Visitors is eyeing the $2.2 billion fund, the university has heard from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office in a letter that asks higher education leaders in the state to “make a concerted effort to identify real, ongoing efficiencies and related savings” instead of placing students and their families under added financial strain, according to The Washington Post article.
“Tuition and fee increases beyond what was already being proposed in an institution’s six-year plan should not be considered as a mechanism to offset these reductions,” McAuliffe’s office wrote in the letter.
UVA officials disbursed $26 million from the fund in October. The money is funding various initiatives, including money for doctoral students, scholarships for business school students and loan-forgiving grants to law students who go into public service positions after graduation, according to The Washington Post.
A UVA spokesman told The Washington Post that the Board of Visitors will continue discussing tuition ideas at its December meeting. In the meantime, UVA officials are working to find ways to minimize adverse impacts to students’ academic experience, according to a university spokesman.
To see what former UVA Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas wrote in the The Washington Post about the $2.2 billion slush fund, in which she asserts it appears the university is attempting to privatize, go here.