New Expanded Aid Program
Greetings from Nashville!
For a football fanatic like myself, I love the fall; especially when my favorite teams are doing well. This fall, however, has held an additional focus for me in the development and launching of Vanderbilt’s New Expanded Financial Aid Policy. If you are not familiar with our announcement and the details, please navigate to: www.vanderbilt.edu/financialaid/expanded-aid-program.php. Individuals from across campus have been working on this project for approximately 18 months, working on details, determining costs and planning the implementation. Vanderbilt has chosen to increase the amount of money we are spending on need-based financial aid to make sure Vanderbilt continues to be affordable and possible for students from many different economic circumstances to enroll.
To summarize, our new Expanded Financial Aid policy is as follows: Beginning in the fall of 2009, need-based financial aid packages for all undergraduate students will not include need-based loans. This latest initiative will not involve the use of income bands or “cut-offs” to pre-determine levels of eligibility and will apply to all undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need who are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens. The end result is that, in addition to a realistic academic year earnings expectation, all need-based aid packages will include scholarships and/or grants (gift) assistance in place of need-based loans that would have previously been offered to meet demonstrated need. In addition, all seniors set to graduate in May 2009 will have their need-based loans for the spring 2009 semester replaced with Vanderbilt grant and/or scholarship assistance.
My purpose in writing this blog is to give you a little bit of the “back-story,” a glimpse behind the scenes in the development of the program and how we arrived at this juncture. I cannot say that I could write a book about the journey over the past 18 months, but I could probably squeeze a 4-part magazine series out of the experience. As a wise mentor once told me; the beginning is always a great place to start; so here we go…
The roots of our new expanded policy initiative can actually be traced to around the year 2000 when Vanderbilt began planning a major debt reduction program that started with the entering freshmen in the 2001-2002 academic year. We began increasing the amount of grant assistance to students with demonstrated financial need. The results of these efforts caused our average indebtedness for graduating students in the May of 2005 (the group of students who first benefited from the program) to be approximately $20,000. The graduating class the year before, May 2004, had an approximate indebtedness of $24,000. We have maintained approximately the same level of indebtedness ($20,000 or so) even as costs have risen over the past few years. All this to say that we, as an institution, had already made a substantial commitment to debt reduction and this commitment has made a tremendous difference in the lives of our students.
As we fast forward to early 2007, we began discussing what our next steps would be in terms of reducing the indebtedness of our students. We reviewed programs from other institutions to try and determine what made the most sense from a number of different perspectives including: marketing (how simple is the plan to explain and for families to understand); cost (estimating the total dollar amount of the various options available and identify how we will pay for the initiative); and operations (how do we actually construct the financial aid package in the financial aid office). We wanted our program to be comprehensive, fair and expansive while minimizing the “fine print.”
The overriding principle that we used in guiding our discussions and the formulation of our final plan was the principle of equity. We wanted to make sure, to the extent possible, the program was “fair.” I can point to two specific aspects of the program that demonstrate fairness:
First, we will continue to use the College Board Financial Aid PROFILE and the data collected through this application as our vehicle to determine a family’s ability to pay for a Vanderbilt education. The PROFILE takes into consideration a number of different factors that we have found beneficial to our families. For instance, basic allowances for family maintenance expenses (housing, utilities, food) are determined based upon family zip code. For instance, we know that living in Atlanta, Kansas (near where I am from) is far less expensive than living in Atlanta, Georgia. Other methodologies, specifically the federal methodology used for determining federal eligibility, are far less precise.
Second, our program is not using income bands or “cutoffs” used to predetermine eligibility for the program. In the need analysis process, income is only one consideration when determining eligibility for need-based financial assistance. Family size and number in college are also factors that are considered (along with many others). For instance, let’s presume a program from Brent Tener University had an income cutoff of $100,000 to qualify for a particular financial aid program. A family with an income of $99,999 with one student in college would qualify. A family with an income of $100,001 with three in college would not qualify. This is precisely why we use demonstrated need (defined as our cost of attendance minus the family’s expected contribution) to determine eligibility. It is a far more equitable approach to awarding funds to students.
Should you have questions regarding this program, please review the FAQ section provided at: www.vanderbilt.edu/financialaid/expanded-aid-program.php. We have included many of the questions that we anticipate parents and students will have about the program. We can also be reached via phone at 615.322.3591 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you are having a great fall!
Brent Tener, Associate Director, Student Financial Aid