- The University of Virginia plans to waive tuition for in-state students whose families earn less than $80,000 annually and have "typical assets" while students from families earning less than $30,000 annually would be eligible for free tuition and room and board, according to The Cavalier Daily, the student-run campus newspaper.
- The news came during the inaugural address of UVA's new president, Jim Ryan, who said it was the first step in an effort to make the university easier to attend for first-generation and low- and middle-income students.
- UVA said it fully meets students' demonstrated needs, though some of the aid includes work-study and loans. The newly announced tuition waiver will apply to all current students.
UVA joins several other institutions, municipalities and states waiving tuition to help make higher education accessible to more students from a range of backgrounds as sticker prices rise. But these "free college" efforts are largely uncoordinated and often struggle with funding and equity, according to MarketWatch, which notes they can be subject to "soaring praise and intense criticism."
That uncertainty is expected to keep free college off the national agenda this election season, though some state and local candidates are including it in their platforms. Such programs have been criticized for being inconsistent, complicated and expensive, and for not reaching the students in need who they intend to support.
One big area of criticism for these programs is they typically only cover tuition. For low-income students, tuition is often covered by grant aid while other costs such as room and board, travel, books and groceries are not.
A recent report from the Education Trust found six of 16 proposed free college programs and six of 15 approved or authorized programs covered living costs.
The idea of free college is likely here to stay, but how it will manifest is still playing out. Higher education industry panelists discussing new research on the topic at an event hosted by the Brookings Institute recommended simplifying the financial aid delivery process and making students aware of such programs during high school. Panelists also recommended incorporating living costs and weighing the need to incorporate two-year and community colleges based on local interest.