University to enroll fewer low-merit, high-need students

Pell Grants at Loyola by Sydney South

Loyola University Chicago plans to enroll fewer students who demonstrate a high financial need and low academic merits, a move school officials say will result in more financial aid for remaining students.

Starting with the next academic year, Loyola is set to enroll 10 percent fewer students who are “at the low academic profile and high financial need,” by telling the applicant he or she may be better off at another school, said Paul Roberts, associate provost of enrollment management.

The student will already have been accepted into the university, Roberts said, “but we’re going to go back to them and say, ‘we’re really concerned that if you enroll here, you’re going to struggle and we don’t want to put you in that situation.’”

Roberts said the process by which Loyola plans to communicate with students is still being determined, but would take place sometime after mid-February, when federal financial aid information is released. The student would then have until May to make a final decision about whether or not to attend Loyola.

A high school graduate’s academic profile includes GPA, ACT scores and class rank, Roberts said. Financial need is determined based on the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), specifically the amount of Pell Grant funding.

Pell Grants are geared toward needy students, those whose families can’t afford full-priced tuition. The U.S. government awards the money to undergraduate college students based on their financial need, how many classes they are enrolled in and tuition costs. Students can apply for the grant through FAFSA. Unlike loans, students do not have to repay Pell Grants.

Roberts said Pell Grant recipients can receive up to $5,550 in support for one academic year. The number of Pell recipients will drop from 34 percent to 25 percent over the next few years as a result of the university’s new measures. In fall of 2014, the university expects to enroll 50-75 fewer Pell-eligible freshmen than they did in the fall of 2012.

But school officials said the 25 percent of students who are accepted into Loyola and will receive the Pell grant would also get more private funding from Loyola.This includes, for example, students who show high financial need but also have a high academic profile and may, therefore, receive more money in scholarships and grants from the university.

Rather than diluting the available pot of subsidies, Loyola officials said they hope to make a greater impact with a smaller group.

Loyola currently has about 3,300 to 3,400 students who receive the Pell Grant, Roberts said. Over the next few years, he said the university will eventually enroll about 2,500 students who receive the grant.
“When [the proposal] was presented to USGA, it was presented as a cut that could better help Pell students,” said Julia Poirier, Unified Student Government Association student body president. “Rather than spreading [financial aid] out, [university officials] hope to consolidate and better assist students with student debt.”

According to data reports from the university, about 75 percent of the 2011 graduating class took out a loan at some point, whether federal or private.

“We want to continue to better support those students that come from the highest need category and we realize that we have extended beyond our capacity to help the number of students that is manageable for the university currently,” said the Rev. Fr. Justin Daffron, Loyola’s associate provost for academic services.

“So to be able to better support the students, we have to decrease the number of students that are within that highest need category.”

By reducing the number of students who are in great financial need, university officials hope to award the smaller group of needy students with more Loyola grants in order to help them better confront student debt.

In the end, Daffron said more students from the high-need category would graduate successfully, since the university would be able to provide them with more aid.

The change in Pell Grant recipients will not affect current students, according to Roberts.
“For current students, we commit to the financial aid package for that individual for four years, so there will be no impact on any current student,” he said.

The move is part of a bigger initiative, called “Positioning Loyola for the Future,” a seven-year plan created in 2009 to improve Loyola’s educational quality while maintaining cost effectiveness, according to the university’s website.

The plan was based on a report commissioned by Loyola and prepared by Deloitte & Touche, an accounting company that also offers risk management and consulting services. The report, called “Making the Grade In 2011: A Study of the Top 10 Issues Facing Higher Education Institutions,” found that one of the biggest problems facing colleges include high debt among graduates.

Pell Grants at Loyola by Sydney South
Pell Grants at Loyola by Sydney South

University officials created a task force to evaluate the extent of these problems at Loyola. The group was comprised of 11 members from various university departments, including the Quinlan School of Business, the Department of Academic Affairs and the Department of Marketing and Communications.

The task force also helped reduce the number of required credit hours from 128 to 120 with the aim of reducing student debt and helping more students graduate on time.

Poirier said she hopes the university will be better able to help students financially, but is also wary of how the decision will affect the balance of social-economic class among the student body.“I totally hope that the [financial] resources will be available to students and that Loyola will be active in offering those resources,” Poirier said, “because they are cutting such a large part of our socio-economic diversity.”

Daffron said although this may be the case, the university’s diversity rate would still be comparable to others of our size.
“[The cut in Pell-eligible students] would indeed reduce the number of students coming out of one socio-economic background, but that size of that population [high need students] is much larger than other populations at this point in time.”

Loyola’s Board of Trustees, responsible for evaluating proposals like this, strongly endorsed the change in September, and is working with the Admissions and Financial Aid Offices to implement the plan for the 2013 freshman class, according to Roberts, a member of the task force, and Daffron, who was co-chair of the force.

by Tahera Rahman

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