May 25, 2010

Spring 2008: Cornell Caps Loans for Students in Need

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The outlook for debt-ridden students improved in January of 2008 when Cornell announced  its new financial aid initiative. By the 2009-2010 academic year, students whose families made less than $75,000 a year would begin receiving grants in place of the traditional need-based loans, while those from families with incomes between $75,000 and $120,000 would see their loans capped at $3,000 a year.For the 2008-2009 transition period, the University replaced loans for students with family incomes under $60,000 and capped loans at $3,000 for those with household incomes between $60,000 and $120,000.According to then Provost Biddy Martin, the average Cornell student graduates with about $23,000 in loans.“Essentially we’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time and the primary reason is because we think that’s too much debt,” she said. “I want to remind you that I’m a first-generation college student from a family that couldn’t afford to do much,” President David Skorton said. “It took me 20 years to pay my loans off. And for that reason, I have a personal commitment to see us do better in this regard.”Hopes are therefore high for more students from lower-income backgrounds to come to Cornell, according to Deputy Provost David Harris. Before the change, a student whose family made $50,000 would have had about $22,000 in loans upon graduation. Under the new policy, the student would graduate loan-free.“The hope is that because of the increased information and transparency that appears on our financial aid website, students who previously would have said, ‘I can’t afford Cornell; I’m not even applying,’ will now say, ‘Oh, look at the example of [the student with a family income of] $50,000. Hey this is something I can imagine doing,’” Harris said. “So that would increase the number of people from lower socioeconomic categories that would apply to Cornell.”Though the announcement came on the heels of financial aid changes at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth, Skorton was careful to differentiate between Cornell and such universities that have recently announced financial aid policies supporting more middle-class students.“They have smaller student bodies by far and much larger endowments, so it is true that it’s nearly impossible for us to do exactly what a school does that has an endowment five times ours and half the number of students,” he said. “On the other hand, I have to tell you that after being at a public university for 25 years with an endowment that still isn’t even at $1 billion, even though we had the biggest campaign in the history of any non-profit in the state of Iowa, that Cornell is still a resource-rich institution,” Skorton said, in reference to his previously held position as the president University of Iowa.Cornell’s policy changes also differ in that they involve a 4.9 percent and 5.1 percent increase in tuition for undergraduate students in endowed colleges and out-of-state students in state-supported colleges, respectively.

Original Author: Sun Staff