The “Suntan U” reputation has long characterized the University of Miami as a haven for students with deep pockets. UM, where the cheapest cars in the parking lot belong to the professors.
Considering the hefty price tag of tuition, the affluence seen on campus is not that surprising. If we want to grow out of the “rich kids” reputation to become a truly diverse and hemispheric university, we must pave the way for students from all financial backgrounds.
The current estimated annual cost of attendance for an on-campus resident at the University of Miami is around $62,854. The rising cost has outpaced the rate of inflation for over a decade.
While UM has an 18-percent Pell Grant recipient enrollment rate, which suggests that we are an economically diverse campus, the degree is still unaffordable for most low-income students. A recent report published by New America, a think tank in Washington, D.C., shows that UM is one of the most expensive private colleges in the U.S. for low-income students. The report indicates that UM charges the sixth-highest average net price (after accounting for all merit and need-based financial aid) of $24,792 for its Pell Grant recipients.
This cost is staggering considering that the average family income of a Pell Grant recipient is around $20,302, according to Fastweb.com.
“Part of the reason for this is that the University of Miami uses a substantial share of its institutional financial aid to provide scholarships to wealthy students,” said New America analyst Stephen Burd.
According to Collegedata.com, 33.2 percent of the 2014-15 entering freshman class demonstrated no financial need but were gifted merit-aid awards averaging $17,507.
On the other hand, for students who did demonstrate need, only 27.8 percent had their need fully met. On average, only 75 percent of demonstrated need could be met, considering both the need-based and merit aid a needy student may have received. The average need-based award was $29,028.
In order to achieve the atmosphere of diversity that UM is working toward, the school needs to act fast to make this campus more accessible to students of all backgrounds, especially those whose potential is untapped due to financial limitations.
This means committing more aid to need-based scholarships and working to meet 100 percent of aid for students whose incomes are under $60,000, as many of our aspirational peer institutions have already done. Students were glad to hear that President Julio Frenk announced a commitment to meet 100 percent of student need at his inauguration, and it seems that changes are already being put into motion.
According to Raymond Nault-Hix, the executive director of Financial Assistance Services, the 2015-16 entering class was the first year that UM was able to meet 99.3 percent of demonstrated need. This indicates a definite move toward more comprehensive financial-aid services, and The Hurricane looks forward to sharing more details as they are released.
Nault-Hix indicated that there would be “a lot of moving pieces in the next 10 years” with regard to financial aid. However, over 10 years, 200,000 students will pass through UM’s campus and go on to make their mark on the world. Financial aid plays a part in determining who will end up walking across the stage with a UM diploma, and we must quickly update our financial-aid resources to attract the diverse community that we want to achieve before we lose a potential superstar.
Even the non-needy merit scholarships that the New America report scrutinizes play a role in creating this socioeconomic diversity. UM’s generous merit-scholarship programs, which include the President’s Scholarship, the Isaac Bashevis Singer Scholarship and the Ronald A. Hammond Scholarship, attract accomplished students from across the country to UM.
The scholarships can provide an affordable private university education for households who “fall in the gap,” or those who do not meet the requirements for financial need but cannot afford to pay the full price of tuition. The merit scholarships should be preserved as much as possible, but new endowments and resources spent elsewhere at this university should be directed to supplement need-based aid.
A spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds on campus will do away with the long-held image of a campus dotted with Aston Martins and Louis Vuitton handbags, perhaps in favor of a demographic that is more reflective of the real world beyond the bounds of Ponce and San Amaro.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.