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How to Cut UVA Tuition 74% Without Really Trying

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Helen Dragas, former rector of the University of Virginia, tried yesterday in op-eds published in the Roanoke Times and Daily Progress to jump-start a conversation about how to dispose of roughly $100 million a year income from a $2.3 billion “Strategic Investment Fund” cobbled together from various sources.

That conversation never occurred in the full Board of Visitors because, Dragas charged, university officials had shepherded a series of actions creating the fund without completely explaining its real purpose. Only after the fact did she come to understand that the estimated $100 million a year was to be used primarily to hire faculty, build labs, promote research and otherwise advance the prestige and reputation of the university — and that was in her last few days as a board member. And when the full board was invited to discuss the university’s plans for the money, it was in a closed meeting the legality of which Dragas has questioned.

Here are proposals that Dragas outlined in her op-eds:

  • Roll back tuition by 74% for in-state students, saving about $5,500 a year of $22,000 for a four-year degree. That would still leave between $40 million and $100 million a year to dedicated to university advancement.
  • Freeze tuition for five years by cutting non-classroom spending.
  • Reduce the $67 million a year spend on financial awards to out-of-state students. With 21,000 applications for 1,200 out-of-state, first-year spots, subsidies are unnecessary.
  • Cut administrative salaries. University staff is overloaded with highly paid administrators. One assistant to a secretary earns roughly $115,000 a year (equivalent to nine student tuitions).
  • Control construction costs. “Excessive costs of almost $1,000 per square foot for a medical center waiting room and $425 per square foot for a maintenance building help explain why cash flow from depreciation has fed the surpluses over time.”
  • Rationalize fund-raising efforts. The university has more than 20 related foundations whose combined activities reportedly cost it more than three times the national non-profit average per dollar raised.

Finally, Dragas proposes:

Virginians interested in mission-centered, efficiently run state institutions should engage a team of the brightest MBA candidates to audit the university’s spending. These objective young minds would earn a stipend, gain valuable experience, and play a meaningful role in keeping UVa excellence affordable for the next several generations.”

Oh, and by the way, the work of the student audit teams would be completely transparent. “That way, board members, administrators, other students and taxpayers could all benefit from their insights and example.”
(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion

on August 1, 2016)
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