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Notre Dame, SMC communities evaluate opportunities, efforts for low socioeconomic students

and | Monday, April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a series exploring the experiences of low socioeconomic students at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

From 2001 to 2014, the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at Notre Dame increased from 8 percent to 11 percent of the student body. At Saint Mary’s, the percentage of Pell Grant recipients decreased from 25 percent in 2009 to between 22 and 23 percent in 2018.

Pell Grant recipients are awarded a federal scholarship based on financial need, and colleges often use the percentage of Pell students to measure the number of low socioeconomic status students enrolled.

Don Bishop, associate vice president of undergraduate enrollment, said while Notre Dame’s percentage increased at the same rate as its peer institutions, the University still lags behind in enrollment of low-socioeconomic status students.

Claire Kopischke | The Observer

“The numbers are the numbers and while we can show we’re growing, we’re not up to most of the other schools yet,” Bishop said. “Why aren’t [we] there now? It takes time. Do [we] mean to get up there? Yes.”

The University is a need-blind admission school, meaning that it does not consider a student’s financial background during the admissions process. In 2010, the University implemented an “enrollment management model” to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants and attract those who might otherwise feel that the University was out of their reach, Bishop said.

“We are starting to contact students as early as seventh and eighth grade, and we put a high priority on low-income or U.S. students of color or first [generation students], because those are not the natural groups that, even [in their] junior or senior year, assume that they should apply to a top-end school,” Bishop said. “You have to be more inviting, you have to get out there and contact them more.”

As part of its efforts to achieve this goal, Bishop said the University pairs with a number of Community Based Organizations (CBO’s), such as QuestBridge, Cristo Rey and KIPP, to identify and attract students.

Sophomore and QuestBridge liaison Eric Kim said he first discovered Notre Dame through QuestBridge, an organization that partners with schools who provide extensive financial aid packages to low-socioeconomic status students.  

“There are approximately 40 partner colleges, which means they will offer a financial package or scholarship that resembles a full ride,” Kim said. “Notre Dame is on that list, which is how I found out about the school. Not to generalize, but a lot of the scholars have not heard about Notre Dame when they apply, so it’s never on our radar, whether it’s because we’re not good enough, it’s not in our culture [or] we live in a family that hasn’t been exposed to Notre Dame, such as myself. These schools are just never on our radar, even if we have qualifications to be at these schools.”

While QuestBridge does not provide any financial aid towards student tuition, it helps connect low-socioeconomic status students with the resources they need, Kim said.

Kim described QuestBridge’s senior year program as “a long, arduous application process.” Students first complete a QuestBridge application, and the organization selects a pool of finalists. As finalists, students can choose up to 12 colleges from QuestBridge’s partner schools, and apply to be matched with the schools through QuestBridge.

“If you get matched, you get a financial aid package that resembles a full ride, plus a stipend, depending on the college,” Kim said. “A few students here have stipends so they can go back home. It really depends on the financial aid office at each school. If you get matched with multiple schools, that’s where their ranking system comes in. … The match process is a binding one to the highest-ranking one you’re matched with.”

Bishop said in addition to working with schools such as QuestBridge, the University has also focused on its financial aid, increasing its aid budget by 44 percent over the past seven years.

In the 2017-2018 school year, 99 percent of Saint Mary’s students received some sort of financial aid from the College. Beginning in 2018, 100 percent of incoming students will receive some sort of financial assistance, Saint Mary’s director of financial aid Kathleen Brown said.

“In the past, not every student would receive a merit scholarship, but beginning this past year admission changed how they award scholarships and now every admitted student receives some type of award from the admission office,” Brown said. “So that award is not based on need, that’s based on a combination of their high school curriculum, their GPA, and their test score on either the ACT or SAT.”

Brown said she encourages students to apply for small and local scholarships to aid them in financing their education.

“There are a lot of free scholarship searches on the Internet, but because they’re on the Internet everyone in the world is applying for them and often the small local ones that perhaps don’t post their scholarships on the Internet — perhaps they don’t have the tech savvy to do so — they have a much smaller applicant pool and students have much better odds of winning them,” Brown said.

Although finding local scholarships can be difficult for students, Brown said she recommends students speak with high school guidance counselors for information on locating them.

“A lot of high schools have award ceremonies right before graduation, where the high school counselor will collect information where all of their high school seniors have won scholarships,” Brown said. “So if a student goes back to that counselor, that counselor usually knows what organizations have given students scholarships.”

An additional resource Brown feels Saint Mary’s students should be aware of, she said, is the emergency fund for personal needs.

“[The emergency fund] is for financial emergencies not related to paying your bill at Saint Mary’s,” Brown said. “Any student that is having any sort of a personal emergency that they feel they need funding for should go to Karen Johnson to see if she might be able to help them with some of that funding.”

To further increase the number of low-socioeconomic students at Notre Dame, Bishop said the University is working to create a $1 billion endowment to fund student scholarships. Currently, the University would need to raise approximately $300 million in endowment to increase the percentage of students with incomes below $60,000 from 11 percent to over 15 percent, Bishop said. To raise that figure to 20 percent, the University would need to raise $700 million in endowment.

To date, the University has raised over $580 million in pledges. However, Bishop said, this does not mean all of the money is available to use.

“Some of that money has been raised and received and it’s given us more money to fund,” Bishop said. “Others are promises that, over a period of time, that donor has identified when the money will be given … so it’s in all different levels of readiness to help fund.”

Bishop said the University does not currently have the funds to increase the number of low-socioeconomic status students as quickly as schools like Princeton University, which increased its Pell student enrollment from 7 percent to 23 percent between 2001 and this year. However, Bishop said he remains optimistic when considering Notre Dame’s progress.

“Do we have all the money right now, lined up, to be as aggressive as Princeton and the other schools? No, we do not,” he said. “Are we getting more money each year? Yes. Do we need to show progress each year and report it? Yes. And then you guys can judge each year if we’re making enough progress or not.”

Senior News Writer Megan Valley and News Writer Mary Bernard contributed to this story.

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a junior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies. She currently serves as Saint Mary's Editor.

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About Natalie Weber

Natalie is a sophomore majoring in English with minors in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy and Computing & Digital Technologies. She serves as News Editor at The Observer and is a native of Western Colorado.

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