Against a backdrop of soaring tuition rates that have climbed 74 percent in the past seven years at the University of Virginia, it’s been revealed that the university is sitting on a $2.3 billion “Strategic Investment Fund” that administrators have accumulated over decades.
The $2.3 billion is on top of UVA’s $6.1 billion endowment that’s 18th highest in the country and is one of the largest in public higher education.
In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post in July 2016, Helen E. Dragas, a former member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, described what’s happening at UVA with the $2.3 billion “slush fund” and other university initiatives as a slow turn to privatization.
Dragas was appointed to the board in 2008 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). From 2011-13, Dragas was the UVA Board of Visitors’ first female rector and left the board on June 30, 2016. Dragas contends that the money was veiled by university leadership even as students were seeing double-digit percentage hikes in tuition.
“Seriously, if the board had known it had an extra $2.3 billion of discretionary money lying around on top of its huge endowment, would it have voted to raise tuition another 10 percent on Virginia families this year?” Dragas told the Washington Post.
In her op-ed, Dragas describes the $2.3 billion as a “slush fund” that was hoarded for pet projects, such as one proposal for a $50 million program for self-care training to include journaling, meditation and yoga for nursing students.
“Proper public use of this public gold mine (and funds received by the university from any source become public dollars) could put an excellent education within reach of more middle- and lower-income students,” Dragas wrote in her op-ed. “Look outside. Many of Virginia’s families are already drowning in tuition debt that robs graduates of the opportunity to gain basic independence, let alone start small businesses that Virginia so desperately needs for economic growth.”
Beginning this year, UVA is distributing money from the fund at an annual payout of between 4 percent and 5 percent, or around $100 million, according to the Washington Post.
In September, the Board of Visitors approved the first round of payouts to the tune of $26 million. This includes $4.5 million for a suite of tools to pursue and win large-scale research grant opportunities nationally and internationally.
Also approved was $4.8 million each to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences LinkLab, to further develop the “Internet of Things,” and to the College of Arts & Sciences for increased support for doctoral students, essential to research output and quality.
Yet through all of this, thousands of Virginia students who seek admission are denied a coveted spot every year. You can do a search on GoFundMe to find UVA students using the online fundraising site to pay for their education in the face of increasing hikes in tuition.
Does that sound like a college education at UVA is affordable? Let’s restore the dream of higher education at Virginia’s flagship institution to the very students who should be able to attain it: Virginians.
It’s past time to lower tuition at UVA. And there’s $2.3 billion that can help do that.