Regents examine financial aid distribution

A presentation at a recent Board of Regents meeting showed the current distribution of merit- and need-based aid.

by Christopher Aadland

Some school leaders are examining how financial aid is distributed at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

At a Board of Regents committee meeting earlier this month, administrators presented the school’s gift-aid distribution, based both on need and merit. One school official said the ratio of need-based aid and merit-based aid should be discussed as demographics change in Minnesota.

Gift aid is distributed in two ways at the University, including awards to students with more financial need and merit aid given to high-achieving students, said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

Last year, the University awarded $134 million in gift aid, 68 percent of which was need-based.

This is the first time the school calculated the difference between need- and merit-based financial aid awards, McMaster said.

He said the current split isn’t permanent but is instead determined by the University’s priorities, the economy, donations and government funding.

Although some regents and administrators said they’d like to see more aid given to students who need it financially, they realize how important merit-based awards are for recruiting.

“We have to put some scholarship dollars on the table,” McMaster said. “Students who do have the resources to go to a university but are exceptionally bright and they’re getting scholarship offers all around the country … they will not come here if they don’t get a scholarship offer.”

Projected demographic changes in the state indicate that while the number of high school graduates will remain stagnant over the next few years, the student population is likely to become more racially diverse.

“We probably need to be a bit more attentive to need-based aid as we move forward because of the changing demographics,” McMaster said.

Regent Linda Cohen said ideally she’d like to see all gift aid given to students who have financial need.

“Right now it’d just be too costly, but that’d be the dream and the hope,” she said.

Still, students can — and often do — receive both types of aid, McMaster said.

To help determine the best balance in the future, Regent Patricia Simmons said the board needs to address how aid is currently distributed and how it benefits the University.

But as long as aid dollars are available to be given out, the discussion of how to distribute them will continue, Simmons said.

“Is this a stable ratio?” she said. “It need not and probably should not be.”