Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, opened Thursday’s first session by speaking on “access and opportunity for low-income high school students.” Roberts was returning to his alma mater; he graduated from Wake Forest in 1988 and received an MAEd in 1990. He explained UVa.’s efforts to enroll low-income students. At one time, Virginia probably enrolled fewer students who received Pell grants than any other university in the top 25, which was an embarrassment, he said. In Oct. 2003, after the University of North Carolina introduced its Carolina Covenant program to recruit low-income students, Virginia quickly put together its own program, AccessUVa. The program increased grants and reduced loans and capped loans for many families.

As part of that program, Virginia dropped its early decision program, which he admitted was a risky decision and unpopular in the state. But he maintained that it was the fairest thing to do: most students who applied early decision were white and upper middle class, at odds with the University’s efforts to recruit low-income students. In one year, of the students in the freshman class who were the most needy, only one had applied early decision.

Another important component of Virginia’s plan is its guaranteed transfer program. In-state students who graduate from one of Virginia’s community colleges are guaranteed admission to UVa. if they meet certain academic requirements. That has helped increased the number of low-income students since many of those students probably went to a community college for financial reasons.