U.S. News: GW leads in financial aid

Despite falling another slot in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of top colleges, GW remains a leader in the financial aid section of the survey – a statistic that administrators seem hesitant to promote.

In the 2008 issue of U.S. News & World Report’s top colleges, released in late August, GW’s need-based financial aid package was ranked No. 1 in the country – beating out Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Columbia universities. The list is ordered by the average need-based package per student, which is $33,809 at GW.

The ranking comes only several months after GW announced it was the first school to surpass a $50,000 price-tag for tuition, and necessary expenses. Many national media outlets covered the news this year, though few mentioned GW’s high financial aid packages.

GW does not use U.S. News’ financial aid comparison in any marketing materials, Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario said. In a University news release about the rankings sent out in late August to a limited amount of campus news outlets, no mention was made of the need-based aid ranking. Schario said she was unaware of the statistic at the time.

“I still maintain that any student, family member and parent – as they’re looking at all these different guides – they are not going to take just one factor and say ‘That’s the end,'” Schario said.

She added that there is always room for improvement in marketing, and a change of focus may come under the new administration.

“With new leadership this is exactly what we’re doing,” Schario said. “We’re asking, ‘What are our strengths? Where can we improve?'”

This is not the first year the need-based aid ranking has existed in the top colleges edition of U.S. News & World Report, said Robert Morse, director of data research for the magazine.

“We want to make sure that we don’t deter somebody from applying to GW purely because of cost,” said Daniel Small, director of Financial Aid. “I think we now have a little more of a story to tell than we did previously,” he added, referring to student aid.

Kathy Napper, director of Admissions, said while marketing financial aid is a priority, it is dangerous to place too much emphasis on one study.

“While we certainly have a competitive financial aid program, we would not want prospective students and their families making assumptions about their chances for aid based on a U.S. News ranking,” Napper said in an e-mail. She added that the University is currently working on creating a new brochure regarding financial aid and expanding the financial aid section of the University’s Admissions Web site.

“When somebody sees (the cost of tuition at GW), they need to know that here, there are ways that you can afford this,” Small said. “The more educated we can make people about financial aid, the more prepared they can be to know if they come to GW this is what is going to happen.”

The other schools topping this ranking are Vanderbilt, Harvard, Columbia and Pepperdine universities. Of those, GW has the second-lowest endowment after Pepperdine. Because of a comparatively low endowment, GW awards a higher proportion of need-based loans rather than full grants, Small said. Also, unlike larger schools like Harvard, most of GW’s financial aid is fueled by tuition dollars rather than endowed funds.

Small said this investment in financial aid allows GW to expand nationally to become a larger, more recognized university.

Over the past three years, the average need-based package rose more than $3,000, according to data provided by the University’s department of Institutional Research. Small said with the decision this spring to cut down on merit-based aid, that number will rise in the upcoming year.

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