MD

2011-04-14

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Report: Pell Grant rates at 'U' fall in recent years

By Adam Rubenfire, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 13, 2011

Though the University boasts one of the 50 largest endowments in the country, a recent report faults the University and other wealthy schools for failing to adequately attract and serve students with financial need in recent years.

The report, released by The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 27, reveals that the University, along with several other colleges and universities across the country with large endowments, has not increased its Pell Grant-eligible student population since 2004. However, University records show the number of Pell Grants awarded to University students in recent years has increased as a percentage of the student body. Despite the discrepancy, University officials say more work must be done to attract academically qualified low-income students.

Pell Grants are federal grants that subsidize college tuition for students with annual family incomes less than $40,000. Grants are awarded based on a formula that considers the cost of attending the institution and the student’s expected financial contribution, enrollment status and the length of the academic year.

According to The Chronicle’s report, the University awarded 3,416 Pell Grants to students for the 2008-2009 academic year — a 0.2-percent decrease from the number of grants the University awarded for the 2004-2005 academic year. During the interim academic years, the number of Pell Grants awarded was largely stagnant.

The report notes that all 50 universities with the highest endowments — the University’s endowment was $6.6 billion at the end of the 2010 fiscal year — have a relatively small student population of Pell Grant students compared to many schools with smaller endowments. It found that, on average, 15 percent of undergraduates at the 50 evaluated institutions received Pell Grants during the 2008-2009 academic year.

In the same year, the report showed the University’s Pell Grant population — 12.8 percent of its student body — to be below the average of even the 50 colleges and universities with the largest endowments, which on average have 80 percent fewer students of Pell Grant-eligible students than the average of all colleges and universities in the country.

However, Margaret Rodriguez, the University’s senior associate director of financial aid, wrote in an e-mail interview that the University’s internal statistics differ from those in The Chronicle report. While The Chronicle reported a small decrease in Pell Grants awarded by the University from 2004 to 2008, the University’s records show an 18.7-percent increase in Pell Grants from 2008 to 2009.

For the 2008-2009 academic year, University students received a collective $11 million in Pell Grants.

Despite the University’s figures that show growth in the number of University students receiving Pell Grants, Rodriguez wrote the University must do more to increase its Pell Grant student population.

"We are not where we would like to be yet, but we're focusing on doing even better going forward,” Rodriguez wrote.

Because students’ family income isn’t considered in the admissions process, the University accepts academically qualified low-income students at the same rate as students without demonstrated financial need. However, low-income students do not apply for admission at the same rate, Rodriguez wrote.

"It is important to note that income is not a factor in the admissions process, which is need-blind,” Rodriguez wrote. “Ultimately, we admit lower-income students at the same rates as upper-income students.”

Rodriguez explained that many low-income families may assume the University is too expensive for their level of income, though the University is committed to meeting 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of in-state students.


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