With increased tuition, University reduces merit-based aid

The University is readying to change its scholarship structure next year when more students will be receiving need-based financial aid and less money will be available for merit-based scholarships.

The shift comes on the heels of a much-publicized increase in tuition that makes GW the first school with a total cost of attendance of more than $50,000 per year for next year’s incoming freshman class under the fixed tuition plan.

At the winter meeting of the Board of Trustees, in collaboration with the University Budget Office, the body announced a projected $2.5 million reallocation of funds from merit-based aid to need-based aid for next year’s incoming freshmen. About 60 percent of GW students supplement their tuition costs with financial aid, according to University statistics.

The decrease will change the value of the average merit-based scholarships from about half the cost of tuition to about $6,000 less. The new average merit-based scholarship will be worth $12,500, University administrators said. Only about 300 merit-based scholarships will now be awarded, down from this year’s 360.

Dan Small, director of the office of Student Financial Assistance, said the board decided on the shift because the average family contribution to the total cost of attending GW is lower than it has been in recent years.

He indicated that this is not an unusual occurrence, and said that there was not as large of an increase in the number of families able to pay for the full tuition as there have been in previous years. Costs are going up, he said, but this year, students’ needs are going up more.

Robert Chernak, vice president for Student Academic Support Services, said the decision was made in the best interest of GW’s position in the marketplace.

“The reason for a shift … is that the identified trends suggest that not to do so has a greater risk of a negative impact on our ability to attract the type of diversified and qualitative student populations we seek,” Chernak said in an e-mail.

“Naturally, those involved in the decision-making process are not 100 percent clairvoyant, nevertheless, we do our best to monitor external variables that could impact GW, and adjust our strategy accordingly,” he said.

Several GW students receiving merit-based aid expressed concern about the shift. Nick Stulck and Davis Woodruff, both freshmen in the Elliott School, said that they would not have been able attend GW if they had not received Presidential Academic merit scholarships.

“I’m really pleased with the Elliott School, but if I had not gotten the scholarship, I would have sought a similar program elsewhere,” Stulck said.

Small also expressed some concern that the shift may affect the quality of student attracted to the University, but he hopes that the increase in need-based aid will allow promising students who may not have been able to afford the school’s substantial costs to come to GW.

Grae Baxter, director of the undergraduate honors program, stressed that she was not familiar with the specifics of the issue, but that she would not be worried about such a shift.

“It would have an impact if top students were coming here who did not have financial need, but my experience with honors students is that they have as much financial need as anyone,” she said.

About 62 percent of GW students receive some sort of financial aid from the University, Small said. At the moment, roughly 70 percent of those students receive need-based aid.

Students already enrolled at GW will not be affected by the shift.

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