Merit aid will grow, but not need-based

Part of the funding increase will go to expanded national recruitment efforts.

by Tyler Gieseke

The University of Minnesota plans to amp up funding for merit-based financial aid next year.

As part of a push to recruit more top-notch students to the University, President Eric Kaler proposed in early May a $2.1 million increase in funding for merit scholarships next year, which could help the school court students from Minnesota and around the country.

However, need-based funding won’t see an increase, as University officials say it already fully covers eligible students.

The boost in merit aid stems from an increase in merit scholarships four years ago, when the University guaranteed recipients funds throughout their undergraduate career, said Julie Tonneson, associate vice president for budget and finance.

The University has been recruiting large numbers of National Merit Scholars, and awards for these students are some of the University’s most prominent, said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

Last fall, the University enrolled the second-highest number of National Merit Scholars among Big Ten universities.

“We’re really just trying to get really excellent students,” McMaster said. “We don’t overly privilege National Merit kids.”

More than $22 million is dedicated to merit-based aid annually, he said.

University scholarships that give preference to National Merit Scholars include the Gold Scholar Award, which provides $40,000 to students over four years, and the Cyrus Northrop Scholarship, which offers $20,000 over the same time period.

Johanna Back, a National Merit Scholar and incoming freshman from East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn., said scholarships played a big role in her decision to attend the University.

Back said she attended University recruitment events where she met older students who had also decided between highly selective colleges and the University.

“They really showed you … the benefits of going to the U,” she said.

Back said she scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT, and she will receive $77,700 in scholarships from the University over four years.

“It’s nice to be able to go through college not worrying about money and maybe save up money for future schooling after undergrad,” she said.

The national recruitment game

More than $137,000 of the proposed merit aid increase will contribute to the University’s expanded efforts to recruit students from outside the Midwest.

Admissions officers began reaching out to other areas of the country both because the University had few students from outside states and because fewer students have graduated from Midwest high schools in recent years, McMaster said.

The University began recruiting from the Chicago area more than a decade ago, McMaster said. Now, sights are set on the New York City metro area and Texas, he said.

Students on the East Coast generally view the Midwest as a potential place to attend college, he said, and population growth in Texas makes it a strategic area to recruit.

But the University has to stay on its toes to attract high-quality students and not lose Minnesota-area students in the process, McMaster said.

“This is a game everyone’s playing in higher ed,” he said.

Need-based programs OK

The University isn’t increasing need-based aid, because resident undergraduate tuition is frozen next year, according to Board of Regents documents.

Kaler‘s proposed budget for next year continues to commit about $30 million for need-based scholarships, an amount University officials say is sufficient to cover students who are eligible for the U Promise Scholarship, a need-based aid program for students whose annual family incomes are $100,000 or less.

“We’re confident we have enough funding for that program,” Tonneson said.

More than 13,000 students are expected to be eligible for the scholarship next academic year, according to the Regents documents.

In January, Kaler also announced plans for the Retaining all Our Students initiative, which will provide more programs for low-income students, like financial literacy training and peer tutoring. The initiative doesn’t offer financial aid.