The number of undergraduate students who received need-based scholarships and grants at large public universities across the United States has increased considerably since 2005,according to research conducted by the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.
Thirty-eight of 49 universities had steady to dramatic increases in the number of undergraduate students who received need-based financial grants during the last five years.
Nine universities had decreases, and two universities – the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Maryland,College Park – remained about the same.
The Scripps Howard Foundation Wire collected data about one public university in each state, the campus the state designated as its flagship,four-year school. For states without flagships,or for those with more than one,the SHFWire chose the public university with the largest enrollment.
Data were collected from the Department of Education’s website,the “common data set” of forms filled out by most universities,university websites,officials at campuses and other organizations that study higher education.
University of New Mexico numbers are not in national databases,and officials there did not respond to multiple requests for information.
The University of Mississippi at Oxford has the highest percentage of students with need-based scholarships. The number rose 26.04 percentage points,from 21.33 percent in the 2005-2006 academic year to 47.38 percent for the current academic year.
Laura Diven-Brown,director of financial aid at Ole Miss,said the increase is due to the growing number of eligible students. She said the university has introduced several programs to assist students,including a need-based scholarship program called Ole Miss Opportunity,launched in January 2010.
Diven-Brown said the university continues to help students who come from Hurricane Katrina-affected families,which contributes to the increase.
The University of Texas at Austin has the lowest number of students receiving aid,with a 7 percentage point decrease in the last five years,from 42.03 percent in 2005-2006 to 34.39 percent in 2010-2011.
Several factors,including students’ families’ economic situations and changes in institutional priorities, contributed to the trend.
Peter Zetterberg,senior analyst of undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota,Twin Cities,said a major reason for its increase is the Promise Scholarship Program the university instituted in the 2005-06 academic year. The number of student receiving aid rose 17.2 percentage points,from 27.58 percent to 44.79 percent.
The program provides a scholarship for state residents that,combined with federal and state grants,covers tuition and fees.
Another major factor,Zetterberg said,is the expansion of federal Pell Grant-eligibility,which has increased the number of eligible U of M students by about 2,000.
He said the income level of many students has declined with the recession,making more students eligible for need-based assistance.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said fluctuating numbers at universities could be attributed to individual universities’ scholarship policies.
“When the economy is down,people tend to go back to school,” Gigi Jones,director of research at NASFAA,said in an e-mail.
The SHFWire analysis showed overall increases in enrollment. However,NASFAA said that if need-based aid is down,a drop in state appropriations,smaller endowments and decreases in other sources of revenue could account for a lower rate of aid to students.
Even though the number of students who received need-based aid dropped slightly from 2007 to 2009,the University of Connecticut at Storrs had an overall increase of 6.7 percentage points over the five years,from 34.07 percent to 40.86 percent.
“The reason for the jump later is because we budgeted more money for financial aid in those years,and the federal government has slowly been changing their formulas so that more students fit into the need-based category,” Michael Kirk, university spokesman,said.
The University of Tennessee Knoxville,which had a 14.7 percentage point increase in need-based scholarships,also attributed the changes to a major shift in the university’s decision-making process. It has dedicated one-third of financial grants to need-based students. Nearly all of the university’s scholarships in 2005-2006 were merit based.
“We have purposely targeted students who have very limited financial resources to come to school and made a specific effort to help them come to the University of Tennessee,” Jimmy G. Cheek,UT Knoxville’s chancellor,said in an interview. “By targeting scholarships towards students who have significant financial need,we have done an excellent job in increasing access to the state’s flagship university.”
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor,had an increase of 3.7 percentage points in the number of students who received need-based financial aid from the 2005-2006 academic year to 2009-2010,from 25.1 percent to 28.8 percent.
“Our student population is seeing an increase in financial need overall. In 2009-2010,we saw an 18.7 percent increase in Pell Grant-eligible students,a trend that is continuing in the current academic year,” said Margaret Rodriguez,senior associate director of the university’s Office of Financial Aid.