Freshman class sees decrease in financial aid

A smaller percentage of the freshman class received financial aid this year, despite demonstrating higher need than other incoming cohorts over the past six years, internal data show.

Six percent fewer freshmen got any need – or merit-based financial aid – this year, reversing a trend of more incoming students receiving aid that has persisted for at least three years.

At the same time, freshmen demonstrated a significantly lower expected family contribution toward tuition – about $1,600 less on average than students entering the University in 2010.

Associate Vice President for Financial Assistance Dan Small attributed the drop in awards to an overall decrease to the size of the freshman class but declined to explain the 6 percentage point dip.

“The number of aid recipients will vary from year to year,” Small said, adding that the percentage of aid recipients depends on the overall size of the freshman class and the number of applicants.

This year’s institutional undergraduate financial aid pool was the largest in University history – topping $160 million.

No information about the size of the average freshman aid award was given in GW’s report. Small declined to say if the figures demonstrate a University pullback of its per capita financial aid.

Across GW, the number of overall need-based aid recipients fell nearly 6 percent, while merit-aid fell only half a percentage point.

Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said in October this year was the largest single spike in demonstrated need he could recall. Small attributed the higher demand for aid to a decrease in asset value nationwide.

The Office of Institutional Research and Planning does not provide data about how the University’s financial resources are allotted among students beyond entering freshmen.

“While the overall need among the total pool may be greater or less from one year to the next, it could be that among those new students who actually enroll, that the average awards could be more or less than those offered aid who did not enroll,” Chernak said.

Chernak estimated that 23 percent of the total aid pool was doled out to freshmen, proportional with their representation in the undergraduate population.

Freshmen entering different academic programs saw large discrepancies in the likelihood of receiving aid, school-specific reports show.

Just 51 percent of freshmen entering the GW School of Business this year received any kind of aid, while 81 percent of those entering the School of Engineering and Applied Science saw financial assistance.

This follows a University-wide trend of engineering students being significantly more likely to get financial aid, a November Hatchet examination of 2010 data showed. Small said then that the awards were not used to incentivize engineering or science fields.

Earlier this month, U.S. News and World Report compiled a list of 62 colleges nationwide that met 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need in 2010. The only market basket institution named was Northwestern University.

Next year’s financial aid pool will be decided at the Board of Trustees meeting in May.

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