College Planning & Management

MAR 2013

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Recruit & Retain ALBRIGH T COLLEGE Meeting the Bottom Line Why one non-wealthy private college has decided to meet full fnancial need. BY LEX O. MCMILL AN T HERE IS A COMMON FACTOR merit awards are virtually even. overwhelmingly cited by prospecMost private college leaders acknowledge that this "arms race" tive students who explore Albright is not financially sustainable and wish it would end. Merit aid does College but choose to enroll elsewhere, and not increase access to higher education; it only changes where by current students who leave Albright before people choose to attend. In fact, a statement drafted at a recent they graduate: cost. meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges cites a 2009 study This is no surprise to us. Albright long has showing that merit aid is associated with a decrease in enrollment been a college of choice for first-generation stuof low-income and minority students. The problem has been that dents, many of whom come from families of limited means. While we few colleges seem to want to unilaterally "disarm" and renounce have been generous with financial aid packages over the years, ongomerit aid in favor of meeting full need. ing economic conditions have placed enormous burdens on the ColThere is no doubt that Albright is taking a risk in making lege's students and their families. For too many of them, the decision this commitment. It is, however, a very calculated risk. After whether to attend or remain at Albright analyzing demographic data and was based not on the College's academic historical trends, the College's enrollIn addition, we will be programs, residential experience or camment management team believed the closing the need gap pus profile, but on the bottom line. greater risk would be the status quo. We through grants and schol- presented our thoughts to our trustWe wanted — we needed — a new approach. arships, not loans. We an- ees, who agreed and authorized us to And so, beginning with Albright proceed. ticipate that student debt College's Class of 2017, which will enter Ultimately, our decision was made in the fall of 2013, we will strive to meet will decrease and that both with the best interests of students at 100 percent of institutionally determined retention and graduation heart. As I noted earlier, the overneed, defined as tuition, room, and board whelming cost issue facing students rates will rise. minus the expected family contribution and families forces them to make (EFC). We will do so through a combinachoices based on dollar signs instead of tion of College, federal, and state aid programs, comprising grants, academic quality and fit. Our hope is that a clearly defi ned, easily federal student loans, and work-study jobs. understood, and mission-centric pricing plan will allow them Our new strategy does not come without costs. In increasing to choose a college — ideally, Albright College — on its merits our commitment from approximately 70 percent of need over the rather than its price tag. last several years to 100 percent next year, we have had to budget In addition, we will be closing the need gap through grants substantially more dollars in financial aid. Unlike most schools and scholarships, not loans. We anticipate that student debt will that have committed to meet full need, Albright is not a wealthy decrease and that both retention and graduation rates will rise. institution; our endowment is considerably smaller than that of These factors will help Albright continue to meet its long-standing most of the schools that have already adopted this strategy. commitment to serving first-generation college families. The composition of financial aid has been a hot topic in private We recognize that times have changed and that current higher education for years with discussion focused on need-based economic conditions are causing families to struggle. We want versus merit-based aid. It is well known that since the late 1980s do to everything we can to make it possible for Albright to be there has been a marked shift away from need-based aid to so-called affordable to families who will work with us to meet their need. "merit aid" given to students for perceived academic or other abiliThe benefits of high academic quality and a tight-knit residential ties and often to students who could pay for their education. learning community should not be reserved only for those who In 1995-96, the National Center for Education Statistics showed can write a check for it. CPM that private colleges gave nearly twice as many need-based grants as merit awards. Today, however, the percentages of need and Lex McMillan is president of Albright College in Reading, PA. 18 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / MARCH 2013 WWW.PLANNING 4EDUCATION.COM

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