February 4, 2008 — Students whose college education depends on financial aid have an ally in a new student organization. "Hoos for Open Access" formed last fall and officially opened to general membership this semester.
The group hopes to educate potential students about AccessUVa, the financial aid program at the University of Virginia, and provide financial-education support to students who receive assistance.
The group’s executive board, composed of students Kimberly Diaz, Sylvia Lee, Chalais Massard, Josh Mitchell and Mary Nguyen, originally formed as an advisory committee for Julie Roa, the AccessUVa coordinator in the University’s Office of Admission. The members later decided that they could further promote affordable higher education by forming a student organization.
“We want to help AccessUVa become the best that it can possibly be,” Mitchell said. “It has already helped our lives in such a phenomenal way. We would like nothing more than for the students that come after us to have an even better experience. It’s kind of like augmenting a system that we have already been extremely grateful for.”
While it still has an advisory role with the Office of Admission, Hoos for Open Access has also taken independent steps, such as starting a blog and hosting weekly chat sessions for students with questions about financial aid. Group members also plan to give talks at high schools about college financial aid programs and hold receptions for AccessUVa students at graduation.
The group has met with University President John T. Casteen III and Yvonne Hubbard, director of Student Financial Services, to discuss the state of financial aid at the University and suggest changes they think would benefit students who receive economic assistance.
“I think students provide amazing input,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes they will poke us, sometimes they will work with us. But they are always going to be thoughtful, and we will work together for the benefit of the University.” For example, the group has recommended expanding aid for international study, January Term classes and summer tuition, Hubbard said.
Hoos for Open Access also offers students opportunities for financial education. The group's financial literacy committee is “geared toward training students to understand what their financial aid packets mean and how to manage their money,” Massard said. There is also a Student Life Scholarship Standardization Committee to work on giving students the ability to apply for multiple grants through a single application.
Hoos for Open Access' ultimate aim is to help increase socio-economic diversity at the University and in higher education in general, members of the executive board said — and that includes the group's own membership.
“I think everyone benefits from having different perspectives and if you come from a lower economic background, you might have different experiences … which you can bring into your classes and discussions,” Diaz said.
Lee added that membership in the group is not limited to those receiving financial aid.
“I think the big thing that we want people to know about Hoos For Open Access is that it is not just for AccessUVa students or students on financial aid,” Lee said. “We think that the larger goal of socio-economic diversity really affects everyone in the University. Anyone who wants to be an advocate for affordability in higher education is welcome to join us.”