Title page for ETD etd-11092008-155034

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Ortgies, Jennifer Marie
Author's Email Address ortgiesjeni@gmail.com
URN etd-11092008-155034
Title A Case Study of the Dimensions of Affordability of Undergraduate Education in Virginia
Degree Master of Arts
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Hult, Karen M. Committee Chair
Luke, Timothy W. Committee Member
Moore, Wayne D. Committee Member
  • student loans
  • affordability
  • tuition
  • financial aid
  • cost
  • higher education
  • Virginia
Date of Defense 2008-10-31
Availability unrestricted
The main purpose of this research was to examine the dimensions of affordability of public undergraduate education, focusing on a single state during a particular period of time. The main research question was: What are the dimensions of affordability of public undergraduate education in Virginia? The study examined three dimensions between the years 1981 and 2000: 1) per capita disposable income (adjusted for inflation) in Virginia, 2) financial aid at the state and federal levels, and 3) the burden of a loan for college students. In addition, the study explored several possible influences on these dimensions, including partisan control of the U.S. presidency and Congress and partisan control of the Virginia governor and state legislature. Although this study focuses on the outcomes in a single state (undergraduate, public institution enrollments in Virginia), the national data were explored because states often determine how much they are able to contribute after the national contributions are taken into consideration.

The key dependent variable was undergraduate enrollments at Virginia public higher education institutions. Do enrollments tend to increase, decrease, or remain constant when any of the dimensions of affordability increase, decrease, or remain constant? Two-year and four-year public undergraduate institutions in Virginia made up the sample of institutions examined. This research focused on the time frame of 1981 through 2000. The rationales for this specific time period were that 1) appropriate data are available for these years, and 2) it allows a big picture with contrary views of education policy at both the national and state levels. During this time period, Ronald Reagan (1981-1988), George H.W. Bush (1989-1992), and Bill Clinton (1993-2000) each served as president.

Three consecutive years of decreases in Virginia’s public undergraduate enrollments occurred in 1988-1990. 1990 was the highest year-to-year decrease at negative 4.79% overall. 1990 was the largest decrease in 4-year public institution enrollments in VA while 1988 was the largest decrease in enrollments for 2-year public institution enrollments in Virginia. The following things happened during these years of enrollment decreases, as they related to the dimensions of affordability and the named influences. First 1989 and 1991, were both years that the Virginia public higher education state appropriations were less than 1percent. Even though 1990 itself looked more positive with a 13.43 percent increase, the years preceding and following 1990 were not so positive. Second, when people can afford more, it appears to have an inverse relationship with public institution enrollments. When people can afford more, they most likely enroll at private institutions and when they can afford less, they enroll at public institutions. The highest enrollment year for 2-year public institutions was in 1985, which followed the second largest decrease to disposable income. The inverse relationship is less strong with four-year public institutions and is more evident in the two-year institutions. Thirdly, the 1993-1994 academic year marked the year when the number of loans for higher education appears that they will forever outnumber the amount of grants. This being said, the issue of affordability is really now a matter for after college years when the payback period for these loans begins versus during college attendance. Tuition costs rose by over 80% in four-year public institutions and by over 85% in two-year institutions while disposable income only increased by 36.% over the same time period. The issue of affordability should therefore be more closely examined during the payback period and could perhaps sway someone from enrolling knowing that this payback period is inevitable for most.

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