Liberty University slams Northam’s proposed cut to online tuition aid
Christian university has state's largest enrollment, with 94,000+ online students
Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to cut Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) aid for online students would negatively impact more than 2,000 students per year at Liberty University alone, the state’s largest university by enrollment stated in a news release issued Friday.
Currently being considered by the new Democratic-majority General Assembly, the governor’s proposed budget calls for increasing annual, non-need-based VTAG aid from $3,400 to $4,000 per student for Virginia residents enrolled in on-campus classes at 30 eligible private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the commonwealth. These include schools such as Liberty, Washington & Lee University, the University of Richmond and Hampden-Sydney College. About 23,000 students received VTAG aid in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
However, if the proposal passes, Virginia students taking online classes at these private universities and colleges would no longer be able to receive VTAG aid. More than 94,000 students of Liberty’s 111,000-person student body are online students, many from across the nation. According to SCHEV data, online classes accounted for more than 220,000 class registrations among private, nonprofit four-year universities in Virginia during the spring 2018 semester.
“It’s a shame that the governor’s budget financially hurts so many students across Virginia who go to school online because they are balancing work, families, and school all at once,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement. “Eighty percent of these students are working, and the majority are paying Virginia state income taxes.”
Northam’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, said that the governor’s proposed VTAG changes are intended “to help address and offset the cost of college, notably brick and mortar costs associated with attending college. Online programs, by their very nature, do not incur the same myriad of brick and mortar costs. Governor Northam’s budget increases the [Tuition Assistance Grant] amount to $4,000 while recognizing this difference.”
Nevertheless, Liberty contends that the aid cuts for online education will negatively impact “more than 374 military families, 200 single-parent working families and over 140 emergency response personnel who attend classes online,” said Ashley Reich, Liberty’s vice president of student financial services. “These populations of students are vital to our communities, and now the future of their education is potentially at stake.”
More than 2,000 students per year would be affected by the loss of online tuition assistance, including 260 online students from Virginia studying to be nurses and teachers. The school says that 65% of the online students are classified as low-income.
“Thankfully, Liberty has resources to deal with this nearsighted decision by the governor,” said Liberty CFO Rob Ritz, “but what about smaller schools who cannot support this loss of aid to online students? Liberty will continue to watch this closely as Northam’s cuts move through the state budget process.”