- In a move to reduce financial uncertainty and encourage more students to apply, Trinity College, in Connecticut, will ask low-income students to request institutional aid just once, when they apply to the college, Inside Higher Ed reported. Students must be Pell Grant-eligible and have a family income of $60,000 or less.
- Beginning with the incoming class of 2022, the private liberal arts college will present students with their first year of financial aid as well as estimates for future years. Regardless of changes in government aid availability, the college will keep the family's net price consistent, college officials wrote in a letter.
- Trinity's financial aid director told Inside Higher Ed the program was created to remove several barriers to low-income students enrolling in the college, including the shock that comes with high sticker prices, the need for students to prove they are low income each year, and unexpected changes to financial aid that can upend the education of some learners who have little means to fall back on.
Trinity's policy change reflects a growing movement among elite private institutions to do more to reach low-income students who may be wary of applying to institutions with high posted tuition prices.
The financial aid application process has made it difficult for students and their families to understand "the true cost of attending college," and efforts by private institutions have done little to effectively demonstrate they are accessible to students from all backgrounds, Trinity officials wrote in the letter. This can be especially critical at colleges like Trinity, which advertises a total cost of more than $58,000 per year for tuition, room and board, and fees.
To curb high tuition's repelling effect, some colleges have slashed their listed prices to better reflect actual costs. Sweet Briar College, for example, trimmed 32% from its listed tuition this year, and it is just one of the latest private colleges to do so. Around 50 other institutions have employed similar tuition resets over the past 10 years in order to attract more students, according to Forbes.
The tactic does not guarantee the hoped-for higher enrollment and tuition revenue, however. Of 27 institutions that have used tuition resets, only 27% saw as much as a 5 percentage point increase in enrollment of first-time, full-time students and 29% saw 3% year-over-year growth in net tuition revenue per capita for those students, according to analyses by the Education Advisory Board (EAB).
The EAB lists several common pitfalls to a reset's success, which include students thinking of an institution as less prestigious when its price drops, minimal media buzz around the cuts and lost revenue from the discount.
Other colleges have been promoting no-loan guarantees to lure prospective students. A number of Ivy League colleges offer such packages, including Columbia University, Princeton University and Yale University, though they have been called out for not addressing the cultural issues low-income learners may face when they suddenly share a campus with wealthy students.
Likewise, Johns Hopkins University said it will be able to advertise that it is no longer including loans in its aid packages and that it won't consider an an applicant's financial circumstances as an admissions criteria, thanks to a record-setting $1.8 billion donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Even with the movement to increase access to college for all, many students and their families can't afford their preferred institutions. A March 2017 report by the Institute for Higher Education Policy suggested that elite institutions with "wealth at their disposal" from large endowments or profitable revenue streams should invest at least 5% in efforts to make their colleges more affordable for low-income students.