Articles

Financial Aid Policy Key for Rice University’s Future

In Rice on March 21, 2008 by David

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In an ideal world, college admissions would be based solely on merit, and the cost of education would have no bearing on the matriculation decision. Even with supportive parents, the burden of financial responsibility is heavy, and the cost of education is far from cheap. Recent changes in financial aid policies of top American universities have changed the college admissions environment and made the competition for the top students even more competitive.

In the final months of 2007, Harvard University created ripples in higher education by revamping its financial aid policy. By changing tuition to cost 10 percent of family income for students from families earning up to $180,000 per year (tuition would be $18,000 per year for those hypothetical students), Harvard greatly decreased the cost of education for students from middle to upper-middle class backgrounds. This policy shift was mimicked by Yale University, while Dartmouth College, Cornell University, Duke University and our own Rice University have chosen the less drastic measure of increasing the maximum income for providing full tuition, allowing families who make more to pay less.

According to both anecdotal stories and raw statistics, tuition has a great impact on students’ decisions about where to spend the next four years. By lowering tuition for middle and upper-middle class families, Harvard seeks to attract more talented students from these particular backgrounds. With 90 percent of family households earning less than $157,176 (2004 U.S. Census), this new financial policy makes Harvard decidedly more affordable for the majority of college-bound students. What can Rice do to compete with other universities in terms of financial aid? With vastly different endowments (Harvard’s endowment is $35 billion while Rice’s endowment is $4 billion), it would be financially untenable and marginally beneficial to become fiscal lemmings. Because of existing scholarship programs and a strong financial policy, Rice has the infrastructure and logistics in place to maintain and even increase the applicant pool size. The increased competition for the best and the brightest can be used to promote Rice’s international recognition and justifies the expansion of current scholarship and financial aid policies.

First, Rice should increase the no-loan threshold for financial aid. In December 2007, Rice increased the maximum income for providing full tuition to $60,000, and although this is a significant increase from the previous threshold of $30,000, this policy change seems to be a weak response to comparable universities. In this situation, Dartmouth, which raised its threshold to $75,000, has a disproportionate advantage for applicants from families who make more than $60,000. If Rice increased the threshold to match or even surpass schools like Dartmouth, the decision would be much easier for undecided applicants.

Second, we should expand Rice’s merit scholarship program. Rice currently offers merit-based awards integrated into the admissions process. These scholarships are a critical aspect in attracting talented students from comparable universities, and they allow admissions officers to more easily target competitive applicants without increasing administrative workload or extraneous applications.

In particular, we should double the grants given to Century Scholars. Doing this would make Rice a very competitive choice for students and promote the scientific strong points of our university and keep with the points of the Vision for the Second Century, one of which is to increase our involvement in scientific research. The caliber of Rice’s academic community not only depends on recruiting award-winning faculty and increasing research facilities and expenditure; it depends on a vibrant undergraduate student population.

In an age with increasingly competitive admissions, Rice must continue to promote and showcase its strategic advantages to attract future scholars. As other universities use financial aid to attract a wider applicant pool, Rice should follow suit as it looks to maintain its standing as an international university.

David Ouyang is a Baker College sophomore.

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