Financial aid, rising cost of tuition determine college choice

By JOSEPH CERVONE
School of Communication
University of Miami

Sophomore Andrew Bowker remembers two years ago when along with his admission into the University of Miami came his financial aid package.

“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,” said Bowker. “I felt with the financial aid and because I am a Foote Fellow that they really wanted my academic contributions.”

For more and more students, the cost of tuition and financial aid are becoming bigger determinants for where they attend college in the fall. Many students like Bowker, are finding generous financial aid packages too good to pass up.

A college education is becoming more expensive, requiring more and more cash to pay for tuition and other costs (Photo by Joe Cervone).

The economic recession has forced many families and individuals to reevaluate their financial spending, determining what is truly valuable and what can be parted with. One expense that continues despite the shrinkage of family’s wallets is the cost of tuition for top universities throughout the United States.

Recently propelled to the top 50 of U.S. News & World Report College and University rankings, the University of Miami has joined the ranks of the most elite universities the United States has to offer. Currently tied at No. 47 with Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, UM has risen steadily in the rankings, rising more than 20 spots from its No. 67 ranking in 2000.

This past decade, just as the University of Miami’s prestige has risen, so has its tuition. Each year the cost of attendance as become pricier for the incoming class than the one that preceded them. In correlation, the average financial aid package provided to undergraduates at UM has also increased, helping to somewhat alleviate the financial burdens of tuition with merit-based scholarships and need-based-aid.

According to the University of Miami’s Common Data Set, the 2000-01 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 2010-11 academic school year has risen to $37,836 while the average financial aid package has increased to $32,310.  Comparatively, while tuition has risen 80.5 percent the average financial aid package has risen only 53.5 percent.

The University of Miami’s Offices of Financial Assistance Services and Student Employment on the Coral Gables campus (Photo by Joe Cervone).

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 process of deciding whether to offer admission to an applicant.

“Through the Office of Admission students are automatically reviewed for merit-based scholarships,” said Admission Officer Brandon Gross. “There’s no additional application, so when you apply once for admission, you’re also applying for academic, or merit-based scholarships.”

For the upcoming Fall 2011 Semester, prospective freshmen are eligible for merit-based aid ranging from a Dean’s Scholarship of $16,000 annually to a Singer Scholarship covering $37,836 annually. Applicants for scholarships are considered based on SAT/ACT scores, as well as their grade point average and ranking within their high school class. The number of students who receive merit-based aid tends to vary each year based on how competitive the application pool is.

The second form of financial aid, need-based aid is applied for by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), which is regulated by the Office of Financial Assistance Services at UM. Separate from applying for admission, the needs of FASFA applicants are determined by the formula: ‘Cost of attendance’ minus ‘Estimated family contributions’ results of FASFA 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.”

While the University of Miami’s tuition can seem vast, the institution is helpful and encouraging towards helping to cover as much of a student’s needs as possible.

This past year, 5,433 undergraduates applied for need-based financial aid with 4,432 receiving some type of aid, approximately 81 percent of the pool.

“We are what is called ‘a blind institution’,” said Gross. “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.”

Although UM does not factor financial needs into their admission, the amount of students receiving any need-based-aid has hardly wavered this past decade despite rising costs.  In 2000, 85.9 percent of those who applied for need-based aid received some form of aid, decreasing to 75.6 percent of applicants in 2005 and then increasing up to 81.6 percent of applicants in 2010.

Beyond admission, it is clear that financial aid and the amount that is offered can hold major implications in an individual’s ability to attend a university.

“I think financial aid is a pretty strong factor for not only the University of Miami, but for most schools,” said Gross, “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.”

With increasing tuition costs showing no signs of slowing down, 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 University of Miami President Donna Shalala, “We need to raise a lot more so we can cover all our students needs. Students take out too many loans already.”

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