Financial aid appeals lessen as aid pool increases

The University has awarded more financial aid to an increased number of students this year, even as the number of appeals for additional aid has dropped, Daniel Small, executive director of the Office of Financial Assistance, said earlier this month.

Approximately 5,900 students have been awarded financial aid thus far – 400 more students than this time last year – meaning approximately 62 percent of the undergraduate population receives some sort of financial assistance, Small said. More than 60 percent of the undergraduate population received assistance last year as well.

Last year, both financial aid applications and appeals had increased due to the economic downturn. This year, while the number of applications increased, the number of appeals did not, which Small attributes to students and parents turning in their financial information earlier.

“People are more proactive,” Small said. “Those who have been affected [by the economy] submitted their forms sooner . they knew what to do ahead of time.”

As a result, Small said, the financial aid office has been able to award aid to more students. The average financial aid package offered this year was $32,077. Tuition for students entering GW in the 2010-2011 school year is $42,860, although room and board can push the cost over the $50,000 mark.

In February, the Board of Trustees approved an additional $15 million in financial aid, bringing the total financial aid pool to $148 million.

Elyse Ashburn, a senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education who specializes in financial aid, said GW is in line with other universities that are increasing their financial-aid budgets, as well as being more responsive to students.

“This is the second year in a row where we’ve seen private colleges try to hold down tuition and increase aid,” Ashburn said.

She added that she thinks a lot of colleges have been encouraging students to apply for aid earlier, which has helped lower the number of appeals at universities across the country.

People are still feeling the effects of the economy, Small said, even as most financial experts seem to agree the worst is over.

“Last year they didn’t know what was going to happen,” Small said of the calls his office received last year regarding aid packages. In a large number of the cases this year, “they know what their situation is.”

In general, Small said his office has seen three types of financial situations affecting families: those that managed to remain gainfully employed but experienced a drop in income, those that received severance packages but are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits and those that withdrew money from their pensions early and now have no more funds left to assist their child.

The number Small said doesn’t seem as high is the number of people who are losing their jobs.

“This economy is probably the biggest challenge that the financial aid office has had to deal with,” Small said.

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