General Assembly considers capping amount of financial aid

With one third of the student body receiving financial aid, the College of William and Mary, the Virginia General Assembly and the federal government are working to find ways to keep higher education affordable. Differences between the legislature and the College administration, however, may require the College to find new methods of setting aside funds.

Currently, the College sets aside $13 million of students’ tuition dollars to fund financial aid programs. Due to the Higher Education Committee on Tuition and Fees’s Budget General Fund Reviews Item 4-2.01, the General Assembly may cap this number for the 2012-2014 biennium. The Committee hopes to value and appropriate the use of all tuition and fees from in-state students that is used to support financial aid in order to enhance affordability for low-income and middle-income students.

“Anything that caps the amount of financial aid we have isn’t good because it creates problems [with] funding, especially because right now we have a lack of funds from students, so anything that infringes upon our freedoms there isn’t good,” Director of Financial Aid Ed Irish said.

For students enrolled in 2008, 30 percent of College students qualified for financial aid this year, 33 percent of all students who applied for financial aid through  the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) qualified. During the last fiscal year, the College’s financial aid program required $32 million, with $19 million directed toward need-based aid.

“I think that academic excellence has excelled at William and Mary,” State Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment J.D. ’73, R-3, said. “But the thing that I’ve noticed most is how the financial pressure has really increased for the students. It’s remarkable.”

On Jan. 25, administrators from various colleges in Virginia went before the committee to argue for increased financial aid funding. Vice President for Financial Affairs Sam Jones represented the College.

“The first thing that we argue is give us as much flexibility as possible to use all the resources we have so that we can package them in the best way possible,” Jones said. “In your ideal world, we limit the amount of loans that students have, but, right now, that’s difficult.”

Currently there are two main financial aid programs at the College: a state-generated unfunded scholarship program and system of reallocating tuition dollars for aid.

The rest of the financial aid money comes from endowments, fundraising and gifts. Since the unfunded scholarship program’s inception, the College has set aside additional funds for financial aid.

“This program will help the middle-class group that may not qualify for need-based financial assistance,” Norment said. “It’s the middle class group that struggles, and we really need to focus on that.”

Other means that students have for obtaining financial aid include federal grants such as Perkins grants.

In his State of the Union Address, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined plans to boost federal spending on Perkins loans from $1 billion to $8 billion. He proposed a $1 billion competition among states, encouraging them to keep public tuition rates constant. Institutions would be rewarded for lower net tuitions, constant tuition rates, low-income student graduation rates, and providing educational tools for graduates to get jobs that can repay their loans.

Last year, 260 students received Perkins grants, totaling only $500,000 in financial assistance.

These grants make up less than 5 percent of the College’s financial aid program’s needs.

“Obama’s plan would reward schools where tuition hasn’t increased too much,” Irish said. “I don’t know if that could be us, as the details for the program are very vague right now. Even so, the [Perkins] grants are a pretty small program at the College.”

Despite the state’s dwindling funds for education, administrators remain confident that the College can sustain its current financial model while helping students afford a top quality higher education.

“I don’t think that people should get nervous about financial aid funding,” Irish said. “William and Mary is clearly supporting the continuation of the current policy, which is allowing us to continue funding current students. I’m guessing that we will get through without too much of a problem.”



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