By LYNSY SPROUSE
“We have historically been in the middle price range among the 16 public four-year colleges and universities in the commonwealth, and we track this every year because we don’t want to become one of the more expensive schools,” Provost Jonathan Levin said as the University of Mary Washington was ranked as the 16th best school in providing “the best value for ordinary, non-wealthy students,” out of 288 colleges and universities in the Southeast.
UMW offers financial aid, which is available upon completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), in addition to student employment opportunities. Both are offered to students without regard to physical ability, political affiliation, marital status, sex, color, race, religion, age or national origin.
“Our students weren’t getting as much as we believed they should, and the Commonwealth did respond last year, enabling us to award larger Virginia grants [For in-state students with financial need, as determined by the FAFSA],” Levin said.
“Scholarships are really helpful. The one big one they sent out [for foundation scholarships] helps because there are lots of opportunities,” said Lauren Sargent, a sophomore intending to do education and English. Sargent believes that UMW’s financial aid services are an essential part of her ability to attend the school.
A big concern for students, however, is the assurance that the education they receive is worth the money they pay. As a member of the education program, Sargent is able to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in just five years, while master’s programs at other universities could take an additional two years or more.
“The five-year master’s program is the biggest benefit to the school,” Sargent said. UMW is one of more than 20 colleges and universities in Virginia that participates in the Guaranteed Admissions Agreement with the state’s community colleges.
According to Anna Billingsley, associate vice president for university relations at UMW, “In particular regard to transfers, we continue to promote the Guaranteed Admission Agreement opportunities with the Virginia Community College System, which are an excellent way for students to minimize costs by attending community college for two years.”
Billingsley added that transfer students can also use community college experience to get ahead when they attend UMW. “When they come to Mary Washington, they are guaranteed junior status and have most, if not all, general education requirements fulfilled,” Billingsley said. However, Jennifer Hedgpeth, sophomore english major, has a slightly different view of UMW’s financial aid services. Hedgpeth said that “they are not as helpful as I would like them to be, but they can be helpful if you ask the right questions.”
As an out-of-state transfer student, Hedgpeth said money was the biggest concern for her when it came to choosing which university to attend.
In Maryland, her home state, college is generally more expensive, forcing her to look for more affordable options in other states. “[In Maryland,] I would have to pay $50,000 a year to go to a school like this. UMW was one of the few out-of-state colleges that put me on par with in-state tuition,” Hedgpeth said.
Therefore, without UMW’s financial aid services, the typical four-year degree might be less attainable for many students.
For example, Gyeore Lee, junior studio art major, said “I did not receive financial aid during freshman year and had to pay over $10,000 [per semester]. If I were paying that amount of money throughout every school year, I would not able to finish school in four years.” Lee also expressed a concern about the cost of living at UMW.
“In my personal opinion, I think that the prices of meal plans are too expensive,” she said. In addition to meal plans, students mostly determine where they are going to live based on the price of the dorms or nearby off-campus housing, while some students live at home and commute to the university to save money.
Despite various challenges faced in trying to afford Mary Washington, most students agree that the price being paid is worth the time spent and experience gained here.