On June 21, University of Richmond announced that it would offer free tuition and board to qualified Virginia students from families earning $60,000 a year or less through Richmond's Promise to Virginia, an updated financial aid program that will begin Fall 2014.

The program was initiated by Richmond's Economic Modeling Working Group, an enrollment management committee established in early 2009, said Gil Villanueva, dean of admission. The committee is composed of faculty members from various university departments and schools, including the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid, the Robins School of Business and Jepson School of Leadership Studies among others, he said.

Throughout the year, the committee reviews active financial aid policies and tests new ideas to understand their effectiveness with the overall aim to help with the process of identifying and recruiting the best possible class for Richmond, Villanueva said.

A similar program, with a $40,000 income threshold, has been in place at Richmond since the 2006-07 school year, said Cindy Deffenbaugh, director of Financial Aid and co-committee member. The committee began to evaluate the possibility of increasing the threshold for this program during the 2011-12 academic year, she said.

"We believed it was appropriate to increase the income threshold to $60,000 because that was the median household income for the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2010, which was the most recent data available," Deffenbaugh said.

Although Richmond is a private university, 19 percent of undergraduates are Virginia residents. Because of this statistic, it is important for Richmond to remain strong partners with its home state, Villanueva said.

Approximately 10 percent of Virginians benefitted from this program at the prior threshold, and more are anticipated to benefit given the $20,000 income increase, Deffenbaugh said. The program has always applied strictly to Virginia residents in an effort to make a statement about affordability for the middle class throughout the state, she said.

In addition to helping more students financially, the Promise to Virginia program is expected to have substantial implications for the admissions office, Villanueva said.

"We want more students from Virginia to consider Richmond," he said. "But mainly we want to make sure that Richmond remains accessible and affordable for Virginia residents."

Although this program will only apply to in-state students, other undergraduates with financial aid needs are not disregarded, he said.

"The fact remains that we have one of the most robust financial aid policies and programs anywhere," Villanueva said. "There are just maybe 1 percent of schools in the country that could honestly say, 'We are need-blind in admission and can meet your needs 100 percent.'"

Since this summer's announcement, reactions within and outside the university community have been overwhelmingly positive, Villanueva said. Admissions and Financial Aid have received various phone calls about the program as first-time applicants begin to consider Richmond, he said.

"I think people understand that there is that commitment and dedication to students," Villanueva said. "We are fortunately willing and able to have programs like this that really support our commitment."

To view the Promise to Virginia press release, visit Richmond's newsroom at www.news.richmond.edu.

Contact reporter Gaby Calabrese at gaby.calebrese@richmond.edu