Family aid rule eased

February 27, 1998

THREE of the United States top universities have made it easier for relatively well-off students and their families to afford rocketing tuition fees.

Princeton University was first to change the formula by which it calculates a student's ability to pay by eliminating home equity from the estimation of family wealth. That makes it easier for the average middle-class student to qualify for an average of $4,000 in additional direct grants.

Yale followed suit within days, exempting a significant portion of a family's savings, home equity and other assets from consideration in determining what parents are expected to contribute. The university will pay the difference from its financial aid accounts.

Then Stanford said it also would no longer consider the full value of a family home when making scholarship decisions, and would end its practice of counting outside scholarships against the amount of aid the university itself awards.

While wealthy families are still able to afford a typical $30,000 a year for private universities and colleges and low-income students are eligible for generous scholarships, the middle class has been squeezed. Tuition costs have increased 234 per cent in the past 15 years while median household income rose 84 per cent.

Retirement savings accounts, home equity and other assets have been included in calculations of wealth even though it is difficult to draw money from such sources for tuition. That leaves middle-class families dependent on loans, and new government figures show that student borrowing and the average amount borrowed are both rising meteorically.

Princeton spokesman Justin Harmon said: "We had been hearing for some time that families were finding it increasingly burdensome to send their kids here so we've taken a dramatic step."

The percentage of students qualifying for financial aid at Princeton fell sharply from 49 per cent to 39 per cent in one year, an indication that fewer low- and middle-income and more financially privileged students were enrolling. "That was the trigger," Mr Harmon said.

All the incentives are aimed at recruiting new students for next fall. Students already enrolled will not benefit.

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