Lyndsey Wajert: GW’s helping hand

A college degree has become an essential – and often minimum – requirement for success in the modern work force. Higher education has become more accessible due to a combination of parents saving money for their kids’ college educations, student loans (which many struggle to pay off years after graduation) and colleges that have been ready with financial aid packages available for those who qualify.

But in this troubled economy, parents are losing jobs, savings and investments are in jeopardy, and institutions loaning money to students are going bankrupt or tightening their belts. College officials are faced with a question: Now what?

GW is working to find an answer, but administrators must follow through on the promise to be swift, decisive and generous as the affordability of a future at GW is at risk for current and prospective students.

Amid this global financial crisis and with the reputation as the most expensive school in the country, GW’s administration and Board of Trustees are currently monitoring the economy and discussing the allotment of more money for need-based financial aid (“University to boost financial aid in response to economy,” Oct. 13, p. 1).

Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said in an interview that “the Board (of Trustees) is very sensitive” to the current financial situation and “very supportive” of exploring more funding for need-based aid, although a tangible plan will most likely not be available until March or April.

If the economy continues on its current path, GW needs to not only observe the situation but also do away with its characteristic “bottom line” fiscal stance to adopt a student-oriented financial aid plan – and soon.

While the monetary details of the plan are still being discussed, GW can set an example for other institutions for keeping enrollment figures high at a prestigious, private and pricey university during a financial crisis.

Keeping enrollment high becomes especially critical when students are looking elsewhere. According to an article that appeared in the latest Christian Science Monitor called “Students Eye Cheaper Colleges as Crisis Deepens,” institutions of higher education are feeling the pressure to keep enrollment figures up as more and more graduating high school seniors consider state or community colleges over private ones. The article states that “nearly 60 percent of 2,500 high school seniors were considering a less prestigious college for affordability reasons,” according to an October survey by scholarship search engine MeritAid.com.

The University is right to re-evaluate need-based aid numbers and develop a plan so that GW can continue to appeal to a broad range of qualified applicants. With the most high school seniors graduating this year than any other year in the history of the United States, Chernak accurately said that “need-based aid is the most important variable for enrollment stability.”

Increased need-based aid is imperative for current Colonials as well. The University seems willing to allot a large amount of any new financial assistance plan to current GW students, whether or not they currently receive any. If students feel that the University is doing all it can to ensure their places here, they will not be the only constituency made happy. Parents will be more satisfied with the institution as a whole, alumni will see their contributions making an important difference in a difficult time and GW applicants will be more enthusiastic about their opportunities to attend.

Promptly following through on an aggressive new financial aid plan will actually reduce the risk of losing money. It is a smart business move for the University in this failing economy, and the right answer to the question “Now what?”

The writer is a freshman majoring in journalism.

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