Financial aid pool shrinks for first time in six years

The Board of Trustees approved a nearly $2 million decrease in financial aid funding Friday, the first drop in six years.

The aid pool will fall to $161.5 million for next academic year, down from the University’s $163.4 million allocation last year – ending a trend of consistent aid hikes since the 2008 recession, a period in which administrators have committed to using generous scholarships to draw in smarter and more diverse students.

Media Credit: Nick Rice | Visual Director
Percent change in financial aid allocation

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman defended the move, attributing the smaller aid pool to a diminished undergraduate population as of next year. The University is expecting a freshman class of 2,370 students, while graduating an unusually large class this year.

Maltzman said in an email that funds will still allow for a larger amount of aid per student because of the smaller freshman class.

New freshmen will see a larger aid pot. The discount rate – the percentage of tuition revenue that goes toward scholarships and grants – will rise from 35.7 percent to 38 percent for new freshmen. For the undergraduate population as a whole, the discount rate will slim down from 39.6 percent to 38.7 percent.

Maltzman said that decrease is also due to the Class of 2013 being more highly discounted than later classes.

The move comes on the heels of a 3.4 percent tuition hike for new students, a standard increase that the board approved in February.

About 10 to 15 percent of students asked for more financial aid this year, marking the first year the number of appeals did not decrease since the U.S. pulled out of the recession in 2009 and GW began pouring more funds into aid.

University President Steven Knapp said Friday that the University was still committed to using financial aid to diminish students’ debt loads.

“When it comes to student aid, we’re doing what we can,” Knapp said. “What we would like to be in a position to do, in cases of meritorious students, is replace more of their loans with grants, if we could do it — if we can reduce their debt burden — and that’s something we have been focused on.”

Although 87 percent of GW grants went to students who demonstrated financial need last academic year, a study this month by the New America Foundation revealed that low-income students often aren’t the largest benefactors. GW was listed as part of a group of private colleges with low percentages of Federal Pell Grant recipients – who are appropriated funds based on need – and high net prices for low-income students.

While students whose families earn between $30,000 and $48,000 owed a net price of $13,879 after scholarships and grants, that cost rose to $14,670 for students whose parents’ income fell below $30,000.

The University’s operating budget, approved Friday, shows that GW will use some of the cost savings from a smaller aid pool to fund increases in salaries, benefits, travel and communications.

This article was updated on May 22, 2013 at 2:15 p.m. to reflect the following:

Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that returning students would see a lower discount rate. The undergraduate population will have a lower discount rate than the year prior, but the decrease is due to a graduating class that was more highly discounted the previous ones.

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