UVA one of least socio-economically diverse schools

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The University of Virginia remains one of the nation's least socioeconomically diverse public schools in the nation, according to a new report that also commends the University of Richmond for serving low-income students.

The report, released Wednesday by the New America Foundation, is critical of what it calls higher education's "relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue."

The report analyzed U.S. Department of Education data on the average net price paid by students whose families earn $30,000 or less. It also looked at the percentage of undergraduates receiving federal Pell Grants, which serve families with the most financial need.

The analysis found that low-income students suffered in states such as Virginia where schools sought to make up for dwindling state support by raising tuition while also increasing financial aid to lower-income students.

The report says U.Va., the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech should be "a cautionary tale in the debate over the privatization of public higher education" and the high-tuition, high-aid strategy. All three schools were granted greater autonomy by the state "in part on the promise" of increasing enrollment of low-income students with disappointing results, the report says.

While U.Va. is "extremely generous" with need-based aid, Pell Grant recipients make up only 13 percent of undergraduates, the report found. The average net price for those with the lowest income at U.Va. is $3,543 per year.

While the school "gone to great lengths" to recruit low-income students from poorer parts of the state, if also attracts large numbers of out-of-state students from more-affluent families, the report said.

U.Va. Rector Helen Dragas told The Richmond Times-Dispatch she shared the report Wednesday with other members of the board of visitors and it will be reviewed closely.

The report "couldn't be timelier because it raises several of the issues we are considering at U.Va.," she said.

U.Va. spokesman McGregor McCance said Pell recipients have increased in recent years, but that it was "important to consider the success of Pell recipients rather than just the number. U.Va.'s graduation rate of 85 percent for Pell Grant recipients exceeds the total graduation rate at many American universities."

At the University of Richmond, 18 percent of students receive Pell Grants, and the average net price for low-income students is $7,150, according to the report.

The report found that schools strategically award merit aid to students who can increase their standings in rankings like U.S. News & World Report and bring in more revenue, rather than helping to make college more affordable for those with the most financial need.

Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said that since 2006 the number of in-state Pell-eligible students at Virginia's public four-year institutions has increased by almost 75 percent - from 22,260 to 39,230.

"Even with higher tuition, Virginia's institutions are finding ways to open doors for low-income students," he said.

But he said the escalating price of higher education for all students continued to be a major concern