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ND looks to boost financial aid

Kate McClelland | Friday, February 1, 2008

With a price tag of more than $44,000 each year, a Notre Dame education is not cheap. But the University, like many top-tier private colleges around the country, is working to ease the financial burden for tuition-paying families.

Over the past 18 years, spending on financial aid at Notre Dame has risen from $55 million to $72 million, a 13 percent increase. Meanwhile, tuition over the same period has only increased about five to six percent, said Joe Russo, director of student financial strategies.

“Our goal is to continue to reduce the need to borrow by providing more scholarship money,” Russo said. The University’s current fundraising campaign aims to collect $1.5 billion in donations by 2011. The campaign’s largest component will be used to provide undergraduate scholarships, Russo said.

Russo said his office does not publicly express the details of its financial aid policies.

“We haven’t communicated information about our financial aid program publicly but to those who ask – students, parents, alumni – we can reassure them that we are making things happen,” Russo said. “We have a lot to be proud of, and I think it’s reflected in the growing number of students every year who want to attend this University.”

The University has three “premier policies” that make its financial aid program unique, Russo said. The first is need-blind admissions. When deciding whether or not to accept a student, the University does not consider one’s ability to pay tuition. The second policy is Notre Dame’s commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of accepted students. Third, the University allows outside scholarships to reduce the student’s need to take out loans for his or her education.

Notre Dame is not alone in its work to ease financial burdens.

Last year, Harvard University announced it would significantly change its financial aid policies in order to make college more affordable for the middle class.

Harvard’s decision has sparked a recent trend, with many other elite universities across the country, including Yale, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania, making similar changes to their financial aid programs.

Specifically, Harvard families with an annual income of $120,000 to $180,000 will now only have to pay 10 percent, or up to $18,000 a year, for tuition according to the New York Times.

Moreover, financial aid officers at Harvard will no longer consider the value of the family home when calculating financial need.

Some schools, Harvard included, are eliminating parental contributions to tuition when the family makes less than $60,000 a year.

Notre Dame does not have this policy.

“There are too many factors that go into a financial aid decision to make a blind commitment based simply on income, but on average lower income families don’t pay very much,” Russo said.

And, while Notre Dame does collect information about a family’s home through the CSS PROFILE application, Russo said home values are not a major factor in the financial aid package that a student is offered.

On Jan. 24, the Senate Finance Committee sent out a request for information to the 136 wealthiest schools in the nation, including Notre Dame. According to the New York Times, the committee is gathering information on how universities spend their endowments. The committee is looking into the possibility of passing legislation that requires universities to spend a certain percentage of their endowment every year on financial aid.

Notre Dame’s endowment is currently worth more than $6 billion, of which $1 to $1.5 billion is used for scholarships. The rest is invested in making improvements to the University to keep tuition costs down, Russo said.

“Ideally, all undergraduate scholarships would be paid with endowment income some day – that is our goal” Russo said.

The key to doing that, Russo said, is fundraising.

“The current fundraising campaign is a big part of that,” Russo said. “Ultimately, we want to keep Notre Dame affordable and help young people make their dreams come true.”