September 2, 2010

Cornell to Match Financial Aid Offered by Ivy League and Other Peer Schools

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In an effort to remain competitive, Cornell announced in July a new financial aid policy that will match the parental contribution and loan level offered to incoming students who have been accepted to Cornell and other Ivy League universities, according to Tom Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis.

The University will also “strive to match the parental contributions and loan levels at Stanford, Duke, and [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology],” though it will not guarantee that it can match the exact offer, according to a University press release.

For incoming students to use the new policy, Keane said the University will require the students to present a proof of acceptance from Cornell and the competing university, as well as the financial aid package from the other university.

The new policy was enacted after survey results from the Accepted Students Questionnaire –– which is distributed by Cornell to its Cornell students every three to four years –– showed that students who declined the University’s offer most often chose other Ivy League schools or MIT, Duke or Stanford due to better financial packages.

Differing financial aid packages did not always exist between Ivy League schools.

In the 1980s, representatives from Cornell, other Ivy League schools and MIT decided to eliminate tuition cost as a factor in students’ decisions by creating an assembly called the Ivy Overlap Group, according to an Inside Higher Ed article released last month.

The group met each March before admissions decisions were released to decide upon a similar financial aid package to offer to commonly accepted students, according to the article.

“Any school would rather have students more excited and committed about being where they are than have them suffer through it [just because the school they chose] gave them the better deal,” said Alison Rabil, director of financial aid at Duke.

In the early 1990s, though, the U.S. Justice Department charged the group with violating anti-trust laws, and they were forced to cease their activities, according to Keane.

Keane said he believes that Cornell’s new policy may be more of a return to the Ivy Overlap Group’s approach to financial aid and may help Cornell compete with other Ivies for students by making it financially possible for accepted students to attend Cornell.

Problems may arise with the financial match policy, though, due to discrepancies between the financial aid policies at the University and competing schools.

In the past five years, many Ivy League schools have changed their financial aid policies to accommodate low-income families, though they have done so in a variety of ways, according to Keane.

For example, Harvard has adopted a “Zero to 10 Percent Standard”, where families with incomes below $60,000 are not asked to contribute any money toward tuition, while families with incomes between $120,000 and $180,000 are only asked to put about 10 percent of their income toward tuition, according to the Harvard Gazette.

In comparison, Cornell calculates need-based financial aid by subtracting family contribution –– calculated by considering family size, income, assets, and number of children currently in school –– from the cost of tuition.

As a result of these differences, it is possible that two students with identical financial backgrounds could be paying very different tuition prices to attend Cornell, Keane said.

“The most challenging scenario we keep considering is what if a set of twins applies to Cornell and they’re both accepted, but one is also accepted to Columbia and the other to Princeton …” Keane said. “One twin will probably get a better aid package since Columbia and Cornell [calculate financial aid in a similar way].”

Another potential problem is the overall cost of matching the financial aid packages offered by competing schools, Keane said.

“This [new policy] is not tied to cutting costs,” Keane said. He added that the University would spend what it needs to spend on financial aid in order to make Cornell accessible to everyone.

Keane said that it remains unclear how much the new policy could end up costing the University since it is contingent upon the number of students who decide to take advantage of the change.

“We’re going to have to watch [the results] very carefully and evaluate the costs after the first year,” Keane said. “If it’s extravagant, we might have to scale back a little bit.”

Students, however, believe that the policy change will help encourage more acceptances to Cornell.

Raquel Smith ’13 said she has friends whose college aspirations were altered by high tuition costs, including one who opted for Harvard over Cornell as a result of a better financial aid package.

“People may get into a lot of schools, but at the end of the day, it comes down to money,” Smith said.

Original Author: Samantha Willner