We all know college has a hefty price tag that leaves many families up to their ears in debt. And the recession>"/>
By Sarah Elson
We all know college has a hefty price tag that leaves many families up to their ears in debt. And the recession has parents more strapped for cash than ever, though many are not necessarily needy enough to qualify for financial aid.
Rather than lose smart students to cheaper schools, colleges have increased or redistributed financial aid, both for the needy and the not-so-needy. According to College Board data analyzed by the New York Times, many private colleges in Washington state increased merit-based scholarships from 2007 to 2008.
According to the figures analyzed by the Times, at the University of Puget Sound the percent of freshmen receiving merit-aid increased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2008, and the average amount of merit aid given to each recipient increased by 85 percent. Shirley Skeel, media relations manager at UPS, says that same year financial aid in general rose ten percent and has continued to rise by about ten percent each year since.
George Mills, Vice President for Enrollment at UPS, says the school is just trying to meet the financial needs of its students.
"As the student body becomes needier, we've increased the amount of financial aid, and in increasing that we've increased both merit financial aid and need-based financial aid," Mills says. "By and large, we understand that families are concerned about cost and are looking for financial assistance."
So how can UPS afford to hand out more money? Apparently, the school receives some hefty donations.
"The University of Puget Sound has a very solid endowment and a strong commitment to funding financial aid accordingly," Mills said.
UPS isn't the only private school upping scholarships. According to the Times analysis, at Gonzaga University the percent of freshmen receiving merit aid increased by 40 percent from 2007 to 2008 and the average amount of aid given out to each student increased by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the Times reports that at Seattle University the number of freshmen receiving merit aid tripled that year and the amount of aid given out to each student increased by 20 percent.
Some public universities are awarding more scholarships too. Although merit-based aid was only three percent of the total aid awarded at Western Washington University during the 2007-2008 school year, Mary Gallagher, publications editor at WWU, say that increased to four percent by the 2011-2012 school year.
"Merit-based aid is a small portion of Western's overall financial aid budget," Gallagher says. "But it remains an important tool for attracting and keeping the best and brightest Washington students in the state for higher education and attracting talented students from out of state."
Regardless of why schools are handing out more money, amid a tanking national economy and skyrocketing state tuition costs both need and merit-based aid increases are one of the few bright lights on a pretty bleak financial horizon for college-bound kids.