Sophomore Andrew Bowker remembers when he received his financial aid package along with his admission to UM two years ago.
“When I first saw it, I immediately thought this was the school that I was going to because they had made it the most affordable,” Bowker said. “I felt with the financial aid, and because I am a Foote Fellow, that they really wanted my academic contributions.”
For many students, the cost of tuition and financial aid are becoming bigger determinants for where they attend college. Many students like Bowker are finding generous financial aid packages too enticing to pass up.
The recession forced many families and individuals to reevaluate their spending. Tuition for top universities throughout the United States is one expense that has continued to rise during trying times, but it is a cost that most families find important.
Rising tuition at UM
Recently propelled to the top 50 of U.S. News and World Report’s college and university rankings, UM is becoming one of the nation’s elite universities.
Currently at No. 47, UM has climbed more than 20 spots from its No. 67 ranking in 2000.
In the last decade, just as UM’s prestige has risen, so has its tuition. Each year the cost of attendance has become pricier for the incoming class. The average financial aid package provided to undergraduates at UM has simultaneously increased, helping to somewhat alleviate the burdens of tuition.
According to the University of Miami, the 2000-2001 academic school year cost of tuition was $20,960, while the average financial aid package provided to undergraduates was $21,049. A decade later, tuition for the 2010-2011 academic school year has risen to $37,836 but the average financial aid package has increased to just $32,310. To put the numbers in perspective, tuition has risen 80.5 percent and the average financial aid package has risen only 53.5 percent.
Merit-based vs. need-based
Financial aid at UM comes in two general forms: merit-based aid and need-based aid. The Office of Admissions determines a prospective student’s merit-based aid during the acceptance process.
“There’s no additional application, so when you apply once for admission, you’re also applying for academic, or merit-based scholarships,” admission officer Brandon Gross said.
For the upcoming fall 2011 semester, prospective freshmen are eligible for merit-based aid ranging from a Collegiate Scholarship of $8,000 annually to a Singer Scholarship that covers a student’s full tuition each year. Prospective scholarship recipients are considered based on their SAT/ACT scores, GPA and ranking within their high school class.
The second form of financial aid, need-based aid, is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), which is regulated by the Office of Financial Assistance Services. Separate from applying for admission, the needs of FAFSA applicants are determined by the following formula: cost of attendance minus estimated family contributions equals financial need-based aid.
“We try to give as much need-based aid out across the board to applicants,” said Kevin McCray, an associate director at UM’s Office of Financial Assistance Services. “Some applicants get more or less depending on their need-based eligibility.”
The bigger picture
While UM’s tuition may seem steep, the institution attempts to cover students’ needs as much as possible.
This past year, 5,433 undergraduates applied for need-based financial aid and 4,432, approximately 81 percent of the pool, received some type of aid.
“We are what is called a ‘blind institution,’” Gross said. “Whether a student checks ‘yes’ they’ll be applying for need-based aid or ‘no’ on the Common Application, it will not factor into whether they are admitted into the university. So we encourage all students to check that they would be applying for need-based-aid.”
The number of students receiving need-based aid has barely wavered in the last decade, despite rising costs. In 2000, 85.9 percent of those who applied for need-based aid received some form of aid. In 2005, that figure decreased to 75.6 percent and in 2010 it was back up to 81.6 percent.
Beyond admission, it is clear that financial aid and the amount that is offered can significantly impact an individual’s ability to attend an expensive university.
“I think financial aid is a pretty strong factor for not only the University of Miami, but for most schools,” Gross said. “As the cost of tuition continues to rise, a lot of students have to wait until they receive a merit-based scholarship or any need-based aid before they’re able to make their final decisions.”
The trend of rising tuition has not shown signs of slowing down, so the question remains: Are universities doing enough to provide financial aid to their students?
“Providing financial aid is critical because our university is too expensive,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala. “We need to raise a lot more so we can cover all our students’ needs. Students take out too many loans already.”
Joseph Cervone may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.