February 22, 2008

Questions Remain With C.U. Financial Aid Packages

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This is the final part of a three-part series in which The Sun explores Cornell’s difficulties in athletic recruiting because of non-competitive financial aid packages.

The question Cornell coaches and Director of Athletics Andy Noel want answered is simple: how can other Ivy League schools attempt to catch up with Harvard, Princeton and Yale’s financial aid packages, but Cornell cannot?
This week, The Sun reported that Cornell is losing Ivy recruits to the other seven schools because of non-competitive financial aid packages. Schools around the league fear a competitive imbalance is developing, in violation of the Ivy League Statement of Principles, as a consequence of the superior financial aid packages offered by Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Meanwhile, other Ivies are attempting to catch up by improving their packages, but Cornell is not.
Aid and Packaging
When asked why other Ivy schools have been able to come up with better packages, Noel had a simple response.
“I don’t know,” he said.
For one, Cornell coaches and Noel stated that other Ivies are more generous with the packaging of their financial aid offerings, offering more grant money instead of loans, for example. This gives students less financial burden during and after college, even if the total dollars in financial aid are the same.
Furthermore, Cornell coaches stated that a major factor in making financial aid packages attractive for athletes is reducing the parental contribution. Coaches and Noel confirmed that Cornell’s assessment of parental contribution appears to be drastically different from calculations used at other Ivies.
Second, the transparency of other schools’ programs may also be a factor. For example, Princeton offers a financial aid calculator on its website so prospective students can quickly determine how much aid they’ll likely receive if they are accepted.
Women’s lacrosse coach Jennifer Graap ’86 wondered aloud, “why doesn’t Cornell have that?”
Another factor may be that some Ivy schools will set a floor on their financial aid packages; they will never reduce them, but will improve them if necessary. Others, including Cornell, re-evaluate financial aid annually, and will either improve or reduce it.
One student-athlete, who asked to remain anonymous, told of a teammate having to graduate early because her financial aid situation “changed,” and she could no longer afford to come to Cornell.
Cornell also offers some financial aid packages for less than a student’s full tenure at a school, while some Ivies guarantee financial aid for the entire enrollment period.
Almost unanimously, however, Cornell coaches praised the Cornell Financial Aid Office for helping students to the best of its ability. Cornell football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 gave an example of one former recruit, now a senior, who came back to Cornell with a better package and asked Cornell to do it’s best to match it. The University did, and the recruit accepted.
“We still match [other Ivies] on the loan and work part of the [financial aid packages],” said Tom Keane, Director of the Cornell Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment.
“I believe our financial aid department, they do everything they possibly can within Cornell’s policies,” Knowles said.
Noel agreed, and offered another reason why other schools can offer better packages.[img_assist|nid=28094|title=Money crunch|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I fear that the more attractive the candidate, the more creative and generous the schools may be in packaging aid for the student,” he said.
Noel believes that schools have found ways to “creatively finance” athletes by designating some students as “high priority,” such as certain minorities or genders. By applying this standard to all students, it allows schools better package financial aid.
Penn Director of Athletics Steve Bilsky declined to comment on his school’s specific practices.
“There are variables that allow some ability to be subjective in [matching financial aid packages],” Bilsky said. “[Penn does] not have the resources to match Harvard’s policy. … So, our coaches can’t go out and say, whatever Harvard does, we will match your package. That would be a short-term solution to say that. But that would cost so much, that my guess would be most of the schools in the league won’t do that and can’t do that.”
Directors of Athletics around the rest of the Ivy League declined comment or could not be reached by The Sun.
The Sun could not contact any Cornell recruits, and a number of current Ivy athletes declined to comment for fear of embarrassment or punishment from their university.
Finally, there’s another theory: one Cornell coach claimed he was told by Ivy peers at two schools that their institutions are packaging aid strictly to match the best packages in the league, and not based on their schools’ needs analysis. The Sun could not corroborate these claims of league violations. Noel declined to comment.
Although unsure of Cornell’s recruiting problems, Bilsky is certain of the risk posed by Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
“If this would have been any other league, it would have caused an unraveling of the members,” he said. “[It’s] the biggest rift that has ever existed in this league.”

Moving Forward
None of the coaches or Athletics administrators interviewed felt they had a solution to the issue of competitive imbalance in the Ivy League athletic conference, or that it will be easy to fix.
“I don’t think anybody has an immediate solution because the problem is so great that the solution is going to have to be really forceful and creative, and it’s going to have to take time and be something that all eight schools can buy in to,” Bilsky said. “And in the Ivy League, that’s very, very difficult to do. It’s very difficult to get schools to agree on less complicated issues. To get eight schools to agree on the most complicated issue will be very difficult.”
When asked about a possible solution, Jeff Orleans, Executive Director of the Ivy League, declined to comment.
Bilsky had a suggestion, however: use grants-in-aid, essentially giving athletic scholarships. Although, this would contradict the core principles of the league, Bilsky argues it will help all Ivies compete on a level field, and for a greater number of highly qualified students than ever before.
Noel supports Bilsky’s idea, but also suggested different packaging for students determined to be “important” to the university.
Noel is confident the administration will adapt its policies soon to help Cornell catch up with recruiting in the rest of the league.
“Cornell’s senior administration is keenly aware of this situation and I’m confident will do everything it can to address the situation,” Noel said. “Cornell University is committed to excellence, and I cannot foresee it doing nothing.”
When asked what the University might be able to do to improve financial aid packages, Noel declined to comment.
Cornell coaches interviewed by The Sun were uncertain of the solution, but many feel it needs to be found quickly; and at both the league and university level.
“It’s now down to economics: what can you afford, what can’t you afford,” said lightweight rowing head coach Todd Kennett ’91. “That doesn’t seem to be what I thought the Ivy League [was about].”
“[Other Ivies] are the ones setting the standards and we’re fighting to keep up: that’s never a great position in athletics,” Graap said. “We’re trying to win, you know? In everything, we’re trying to win. And in financial aid, I don’t feel like we’re winning.”
COLUMN: To read the column on the series CLICK HERE.
EDITORIAL: To read the editorial related to the series CLICK HERE.