La Casa — the University of Michigan’s central Latinx student organization — is pushing back against changed financial aid awards they say is leading to a decrease in Latinx student enrollment.
La Casa released a statement on Jan. 19 speaking out against the Office of Enrollment Management’s decision to discontinue the Provost Award — which met full demonstrated financial need for some out-of-state students — and instead provide the Victors Award, which provides a flat $8,000 per year for eligible out-of-state students. According to members of La Casa, this change resulted in a decline in enrollment from Latinx students after its implementation.
The Victors Award, a need-based and merit-based grant, was established in April 2020 and is available for out-of-state students in the class of 2024 and beyond. The Provost Award, last distributed to members of the class of 2023, does not include a merit component, while the Victors Award does.
As a part of La Casa’s efforts to challenge the Victors Award, the organization has asked Latinx community members who previously received the Provost Award to prepare testimonials explaining its impact on their educational experience. LSA junior Tania Zaragoza, an undergraduate adviser for La Casa, said the Provost Award was critical to her undergraduate experience.
“It’s actually through (receiving the Provost’s Award) that I’m able to attend the University,” Zaragoza said. “It’s pretty straightforward. If you don’t have the money, then it’s just not a possibility, no matter how much you want to be here.”
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the Provost Award was no longer financially sustainable for the University. However, he said the University felt it was important to continue providing the Provost Award for those who were accepted into the University under it.
“While the Provost’s Award meets full demonstrated need for eligible continuing non-resident students, the amount awarded changes from year to year as individual financial need is determined annually,” Fitzgerald wrote. “It was important not to adversely affect the affordability of a Michigan education for non-resident students who were already here despite the unsustainable finances of this award in the longer term. The introduction of the Victors Award is intended to continue to support non-resident students.”
However, La Casa noted that offering a flat $8,000 award alienates students whose demonstrated need is higher than the award and can lead to a decrease in enrollment from underrepresented groups.
La Casa’s statement notes the introduction of the Provost Award in 2012 correlated with a noted increase in U-M Latinx enrollment. However, according to the statement, the change in aid with the introduction of the Victors Award was followed by a 16% decrease in first-year Latinx student enrollment for the Fall 2020 semester, its first semester of implementation.
Fitzgerald told The Daily that University data indicates more Latinx students admitted to the University from out-of-state instead chose to attend colleges in their home state than in previous years. However, Fitzgerald wrote that there has not been enough analysis to determine all factors — such as the COVID-19 pandemic — possibly related to a decrease in Latinx enrollment.
“Although it may turn out to have been a factor, it’s premature to assume that the decrease in enrollment is due to the change in grant offerings,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The university is committed to completing a thorough analysis of this complex issue in the months to come.”
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen also told The Daily in an email that non-resident students recieving the Victors award are also eligible for other grants and aid.
Public Policy junior Julianna Collado, who recently finished her term as La Casa’s lead director, said though she believes the COVID-19 pandemic may have led to a decrease in Latinx enrollment, she thinks the change in financial aid was also a contributing factor.
“What we know is the numbers,” Collado said. “What we also know is that Latinx students are particularly loan averse. Because the transition from the Provost Award to the Victors Award (provides students with a) significantly (smaller) amount of money, it just is inaccessible for students that can’t afford (the University). ”
According to La Casa Internal Director Xalma Palomino, an LSA sophomore, La Casa brought their concerns to the Office of Enrollment Management after the change in awards was announced. Palomino said while the administrators at OEM were responsive, their conversations were brief.
“They were answering our questions, but it was only a 30-minute meeting so there wasn’t much that we could cover,” Palomino said. “The two main things that we took away from that meeting is one, they said that they weren’t going to change the policy this year, and two, that they wanted … other colleges across the University to pick up on (funding for grants).”
La Casa External Director Rebeca Yanes, an LSA junior, was also at the meeting and said she thinks OEM went into the meeting already unwilling to to replace the Provost Award with the Victors Award.
“They made it clear that this was a decision that was already made and that they were planning on continuing it for the next year,” Yanes said. “It makes it seem like the University of Michigan isn’t reachable. It’s not accessible. We talked about members of the Latinx community being loan adverse (and) not receiving sufficient aid from the University is sending a message that (this University may not be accessible for them).”
The University’s Students of Color Liberation Front — which includes the Black Student Union, the United Asian Americans Organization, the Native American Student Association, the Arab Student Association, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment — put out a statement condemning further implementation of the Victors Award in support of La Casa.
“The U-M administration and the Office of Enrollment Management have a responsibility to implement policies and practices that allow equal access for all students, especially historically marginalized students, to attend the University of Michigan,” the statement reads. “The Students of Color Liberation Front maintains that the Victors Award is not suitable in making the University of Michigan a feasible choice for low-income, out-of-state students.”
Fitzgerald wrote the University and OEM share La Casa’s concerns with the decrease in enrollment of Latinx students, but again said further analysis is needed to understand factors such as the pandemic that may have contributed to this decrease.
“The university is aware of La Casa’s concerns and shares La Casa’s goals of greater college affordability and diversity in our student body,” Fitzgerald wrote. “While La Casa points to the changes in financial aid awards as the reason, we believe more analysis is needed to fully understand how many factors — most notably, the COVID-19 pandemic — may have influenced enrollment decisions … rest assured that the university is committed to doing this analysis.”
Collado said La Casa hopes to continue their conversations with the University to help support not only the Latinx community, but also all low-income first-year students affected by the new aid policy.
“We’re not just here to protest (and) be angry at the University,” Collado said. “We have actively engaged with the University (and) we want that partnership reciprocated to us. The University has shoveled out millions of dollars to different DEI initiatives (and that) shows the value that they see in diversity, equity and inclusion. Here’s another way that they can show that they care about DEI, about having accessible education.”
Daily Staff Reporter Lara Janosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*correction: A previous article indentified a change to general financial aid policies rather than individual awards. A notice about students eligible for other University grants was also added into the article.
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