- First-year, low-income students at Washington University in St. Louis will be eligible for two grants that offer $500 toward the cost of a computer and $1,500 to cover other college expenses such as books and housing supplies. The university also is waiving a $1,550 summer earnings expectation.
- The first grants will be offered next fall to Pell Grant recipients or students whose families earn less than $75,000 per year. The university estimates the grants will cost about $1 million each year.
- The initiative is part of Washington University's broader effort to support low-income students. The university has also raised $591 million for scholarships, bolstered mentorship opportunities and set up a fund to cover the costs of unpaid internships.
Many colleges have recently cut tuition and offered to cover other costs of attendance in order to draw more low- or middle-income students and increase their diversity.
Promise programs, which offer free tuition, have been gaining momentum in recent years. The University of Michigan's Go Blue Guarantee, for instance, offers free tuition to students from families making $65,000 or less annually. After it was rolled out, a greater share of the university's freshman class qualified for Pell Grants.
Other universities have increased their discounts to lure middle-income students as well. Rice University announced last year that it would fully cover tuition for students with family incomes of up to $130,000 and cover at least half of tuition for students with family incomes of up to $200,000. The college also offers grant aid to students with family incomes below $65,000.
More discounts could be on the horizon, especially for private institutions. Last year, Moody's Investors Service reported that while net tuition was growing overall, 19% of surveyed private institutions reported a discount rate of 60% to 80% for first-year students, up from 13% in 2017. It projected the fiscal year 2019 median discount rate to rise to 39%, up from about 34% in 2014.
Additionally, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) reported last year that private colleges and universities were using nearly half their revenue from fees and tuition from first-time freshmen to fund institutional grants, the highest discount rate it had recorded.
However, critics of tuition discounts point out that they don't address other college costs that can be a barrier to attendance for low-income students, such as textbooks and living expenses. To combat this issue, more colleges have been providing funds for unpaid internships, setting up emergency grants to cover unexpected bills and offering aid programs that pay for costs such as health care and personal expenses.