Reduction of student debt key in Princeton’s new policy

by Ingrid Skjong

Princeton University is expected to announce Monday a major revision of its financial aid policies, attracting the attention of schools around the country.
In an effort to curb student indebtedness, Princeton trustees will vote Saturday on changes that would benefit students from middle- and low-income families. While a direct comparison between the Ivy League school and the University is difficult to make, concerns of high tuition and student debts is universal.
“Everyone in the country is concerned about student indebtedness,” said Sheryl Spivey, the University’s director of Scholarships and Financial Aid.
Despite these worries, Spivey is confident the University has a competitive program. The University’s size and complexity makes a comparison to Princeton “like apples to oranges,” but within the Big Ten it does well.
“We could match our financial aid budgets against any other Big Ten schools,” Spivey said.
But Minnesota lawmakers are addressing possible solutions to the indebtedness problem anyway.
“The bottom line is to increase opportunities by allowing students to fully participate in their education and complete it in a timely manner,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal.
Carlson is endorsing a decoupling proposal that would allow State and Pell grant recipients to benefit from a $13.5 million federal allocation. Pell grants are awarded to students with an expected family contribution of less than $2,300. The State grant is also need-based.
In a situation unique to Minnesota, an increase in students’ Pell grants causes equal decreases in their State grants. As school costs rise, students are forced to pay the difference — defeating the purpose of their aid package.
The decoupling proposal would allow Pell grant recipients to retain their State grants while also benefitting from more federal aid.
As indebtedness solution discussions continue, many students realize it’s all part of the college experience.
“It’s one of those things I know I have to deal with, so I can’t get too stressed about it,” said civil engineering senior Joel Johnson.
Still, groups like the Student Legislative Coalition hope it’s something students of the future won’t have to deal with. Shenoa Simpson, Legislative Affairs Chair for the Minnesota Student Association, said the coalition is discussing Rep. Carlson’s proposal and supports the legislation.
“The money would just go to waste in the surplus anyway,” Simpson said. “The students might as well benefit across the board from an increase in financial aid.”
Part of Princeton’s revision includes replacing loans to families with incomes below $40,000 with scholarships. Princeton, with a $4.8 billion endowment, has one of the highest per-student endowments in the country.
Endowments, built through fund raising and investments, fund scholarships and permanent teaching positions. The University’s endowment exceeds $1.3 billion. But the school’s size dwarfs the per-student comparison with Princeton, whose enrollment is 4,500.
Princeton’s revision is expected to cost the school $6 million per year, a figure that would likely be drastically higher for the University.
Increasing fund raising and soliciting more private donations would be the two best ways to build the University’s scholarship pool, said Bob Kvavik, an associate vice president in the provost’s office.
“The University is probably quite good in terms of need-based aid,” Kvavik said. “What we don’t have is enough merit-based aid.”