Private colleges ‘act local’ with financial aid

Associated Press | 9/1/2010, 3:51 a.m.

The program should help local families that traditionally have earned too much to get a free ride and too little to afford Northwestern, said Patrick Tassoni, college coordinator at Chicago’s Northside Preparatory High School.

“Many colleges are saying, ‘You’re accepted, please send your $20,000 check to ...’” Tassoni said of the plight of middle-income families. “That’s when families really start to compare the different financial aid packages at schools. Maybe now, more moderate-income families will be less apprehensive to apply to Northwestern.”

Among other private colleges that are going local with new or expanded financial aid, some directly tied to students’ financial need and others not:

- Last fall, Davis and Elkins College in rural West Virginia started offering discounted tuition to freshmen from seven nearby counties to make its cost comparable to that of West Virginia University. The small Presbyterian college says it was seeking to both reach enrollment targets and deepen ties to the area, which has low median household incomes and college attendance rates. The freshmen class from those counties grew from 16 in 2009-09 to 87 in 2009-10, and this fall is projected at 122, officials say.

- Also last fall, the University of Evansville began offering up to $18,000 a year, for up to four years, to all high school graduates or permanent residents of Vanderburgh County, Ind., its home county. School officials say their main motivation is to get more students living on campus and fully experiencing college life. Living in campus housing is required.

- Boston University in 2008 announced expanded aid to Boston Public School students, replacing loans with grants to eligible students who meet academic targets and do 25 hours of community service per semester. The average family income of recipients is $68,000, said Laurie Pohlm, vice president for enrollment and student affairs. Along with keeping up local relations, Pohlm said BU is seeking a competitive edge for the best students in its primary markets -- more important because the number of high school graduates nationally is projected to dip in the next five years.

- In Worcester, Mass., the red brick buildings of the College of Holy Cross literally loom over the city, seemingly out of reach of many working-class residents. So in 2008, the 2,700-student college began offering free tuition to city residents whose families earn less than $50,000 a year -- also roughly what it costs to attend Holy Cross each year.

“Our local kids felt, ‘Holy Cross, ooh, that sticker price,’” said Lynne Myers, director of financial aid. “We wanted a clear understanding that we are your neighbor, we’re sitting right here on the hill, and we want to be accessible to you.”

Annie Le, raised by a single mother on disability and welfare, is one of 23 students who have taken the offer.

“I’m the first girl in my family to go to college. My mom didn’t want me to go away, and now she’s just a few minutes away,” said Le, who was also able to keep her job waitressing at a pancake restaurant. “It just made it a lot easier.”

Associated Press