Friday, Sept. 23, President Katherine Rowe announced to the Board of Visitors that at the start of the 2023-2024 school year, the College of William and Mary will guarantee scholarship aid for all in-state, undergraduate Pell Grant eligible students, covering the full cost of tuition and fees.
At the beginning of the fall semester next year, the university’s new program will apply to all in-state undergraduates enrolled at the College, including new, returning, first-year and transfer students. The goal of the program is to increase the proportion of students who are Pell Grant eligible by 20% in four years.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid states that through the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government regulates Pell Grants by determining a student’s eligibility for financial aid largely based on their family’s income status. Demonstrated financial need is determined through the FAFSA and College Scholarship Services profile, which identifies qualifying students whose financial needs exceed the cost of tuition and fees.
Under The College’s new financial plan, Pell-eligible students will receive the additional scholarship funding to cover tuition and fees costs.
In an email, Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions Tim Wolfe ’95, M.Ed ’01 stressed the significance of increasing the socioeconomic diversity of enrolling students, saying admissions strives to increase access and reduce barriers to the College.
“We want William and Mary to be an affordable option for all outstanding students from Virginia, regardless of family income and financial circumstances. Expanding the range of voices and experiences in an enrolling class can benefit all students in our living and learning community. An expanded lens of experiences can help the university in building a more inclusive community, and better prepare our students as leaders in the world around them.”
“We want William and Mary to be an affordable option for all outstanding students from Virginia, regardless of family income and financial circumstances,” Wolfe said. “Expanding the range of voices and experiences in an enrolling class can benefit all students in our living and learning community. An expanded lens of experiences can help the university in building a more inclusive community, and better prepare our students as leaders in the world around them.”
The College’s commitment to affordability and access extends beyond students who qualify for Federal Pell Grant assistance. In an email, Financial Aid Director Joe Doborta stated that the College’s new Pell Grant Scholarship was achieved through an increase in funding from a variety of sources, including revenue from the “For the Bold” campaign, as well as additional state funding.
When asked about other steps that the College is taking to make the school more affordable for low-income students, Dobrota explained the importance of providing financial aid and scholarship assistance.
“Since 2015, W&M has had a commitment to meeting demonstrated financial need for in-state students,” Dobrota said. “For families making less than $60,000 in income, this includes aid packages that are inclusive of full grant assistance or include reduced loans as part of the need-based aid package. For in-state families with incomes below $110,000, W&M has the lowest average personal net price among all four-year public universities in Virginia.”
The College’s Chief Marketing Officer Heather Golden stressed that many students who are eligible for the Pell Grant may not realize that the university is a financially viable pathway for them, stating that the College’s marketing needs to find ways to reach them and make them aware of the new program.
“It’s important that we get that message out about the scholarship to make clear that the university provides an affordable option for their academic pursuits. Financial barriers should not prevent qualified students from taking advantage of a William & Mary education, and we need to communicate through our marketing efforts that this is a place that is accessible to them and offers a vibrant community where they will thrive.”
“It’s important that we get that message out about the scholarship to make clear that the university provides an affordable option for their academic pursuits,” Golden wrote in an email. “Financial barriers should not prevent qualified students from taking advantage of a William & Mary education, and we need to communicate through our marketing efforts that this is a place that is accessible to them and offers a vibrant community where they will thrive.”
Pell Grant recipient and FGLI Advocacy Chair Hannah Dow ’23 emphasized the scholarship’s significance in expanding the affordability of the College for in-state students. Still, Dowe believes that the admissions team needs to do more to recruit Pell Grant students.
“The admissions team needs to make targeted efforts to prove to Pell Grant students why they will succeed here — and they will because we have the second highest graduation rate for Pell Grant students in the state,” Dowe said. “They will succeed when they get here, but they need to know they are going to be welcomed here, and that’s the biggest thing for admissions to focus on right now.”
Pell Grant recipient Stormy Smith ’23 also believes that the university could increase marketing towards FGLI students because it would make the process of applying to the College less stressful.
“I think that they need to work on the reputation of saying ‘we really do want you to come here, we do want Pell Grant students, low income, or first gen students to come here,” Smith said. “I think that people who are first generation or low-income are already at a disadvantage because we don’t really have the resources to look into all of these colleges, or we’re overwhelmed by the information, the application process and all aspects of getting into a college.”
With the announcement coming early in the fall, Wolfe highlighted how it gives admissions a chance to begin working it into their full range of prospective student recruitment efforts, making it a priority to spotlight the new announcement and initiative to prospective students and their families, as well as high school counselors.
“We certainly hope that the announcement of an initiative such as this will encourage students who might be eligible for this opportunity to apply to and consider William and Mary,” Wolfe said. “With that said, it is very early in the application cycle at this point, with most students still finalizing their college application lists and just beginning to submit applications. With the announcement being made in the fall, though, it at least has the potential to begin making an impact on this application cycle.”