Money matters: Tulane reduces merit aid budget, increases need-based financial aid spending

Josh Jessiman | Photography Editor

Though the price of tuition at Tulane is higher than at many of its peer institutions, Tulane’s
merit-based scholarships have allowed some high-performing students to attend for a fraction of the regular cost of tuition. In 2012, Tulane offered more than $20,500 in merit aid per person to a third of its freshmen for the year.

According to Dean of Undergraduate Admission Satya Dattagupta, however, Tulane has begun to focus its efforts and resources away from merit aid in favor of need-based aid.

“Merit-based aid is something that we will continue to offer, but it’s a lot less compared to two years ago,” Dattagupta said. “We’ve already started the process of moving merit dollars to need-based aid offers to students who are in financial need.”

Meeting 100 percent of need

Grace Macauley is a junior who received the Tulane STAR award, a need-based scholarship awarded based on academic performance. Macauley said she believes increasing the amount of need-based scholarship awards is necessary to make Tulane a more affordable option for students coming from a low-income background.

“From my perspective, if I didn’t get the need-based scholarship, I would not have come to Tulane,” Macauley said. “The financial factors that impact my life make it very difficult for me to focus solely on my academics especially when I was living at home, so [merit aid] was never really an option.”

According to Dattagupta, the amount of need-based financial aid awarded to students has increased significantly since 2016. During the 2017-18 academic year, 100 percent of students with financial need requirements received need-based aid, and this need was fully met for 69.4 percent of these recipients, according to College Data.

Need-based aid packages consist of both federal loans and and need-based scholarships awarded by the Tulane Office of Financial Aid. Students with higher academic qualifications receive a greater proportion of need-based aid in the form of scholarships as opposed to loans. Some students also receive aid purely based on need.

According to Macauley, Tulane’s merit-based scholarships create a divide between the more academically-focused students who tend to received merit aid and the rest of the student body.

“We have this really strange balance of very smart kids and, quite frankly, a lot of kids who are very stupid that come from very wealthy families and can afford to go here,” Macauley said. “I feel like in order to balance that outside inequity, need-based financial aid is probably the way to go.”

Increasing diversity on campus

The Office of Undergraduate Admission launched the initiative to increase need-based aid as part of President Michael Fitts’ efforts to increase diversity and inclusion on campus.

Since his arrival at Tulane in June 2016, Dattagupta said he has worked toward creating a more diverse student body.

“Putting more money towards students who really need those dollars is something that is very close to my heart,” Dattagupta said. “I come from a low-income family myself, and college would not have been a possibility if I hadn’t received aid.”

Dattagupta also said Tulane has increased diversity in its student demographic since his arrival, which he attributes to giving more need-based aid. According to Dattagupta, Tulane’s population of students of color has increased from 17 percent to 22 percent in the past two years.

“As the dean of admission, my responsibility is to provide a classroom that is representative and reflective of the real world, a classroom that has people from different genders, different races, different sexual orientations, different religions, so we can have rich conversations,” Dattagupta said. “It prepares students to be successful in the real world today, which is not homogenous.”

A decrease in merit-based aid

The Office of Undergraduate Admission declined to provide statistics on how much merit aid has decreased. According to Dattagupta, however, the average amount of money granted purely based on academic achievements is going down.

The number of students who will receive awards, including the full-tuition Paul Tulane Award and the Dean’s Honors Scholarship, is also decreasing, according to Dattagupta.

Junior Chase Stockwell, who received the Presidential Scholarship through the Honors Program, said he supports the cause of increasing diversity on campus but worries decreasing merit aid may not be the best approach.

“I will say I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the merit based scholarship, so Tulane I would say is in a niche of its own for how much merit scholarship it gives out,” Stockwell said. “I can see why they’re doing it, but Tulane attracted so many people in the first place due to its merit scholarship.”

Junior Josh Lacoste, who received the Dean’s Scholarship, along with Louisiana’s TOPS scholarship and the national merit scholarships, also said he, along with many other students he knows in the Honors Program, would not have come to Tulane without merit aid.

Some students said they believe limiting merit aid could impact Tulane’s prestige as a school.

“Because of the merit aid, which gets people to come visit the school and maybe people fall in love with the school, that to me has been why Tulane has been so successful and why the acceptance rate keeps declining and why the quality of the students keeps getting you know better and better as the years go by,” Lacoste said.

Lacoste said he applied to FAFSA but did not receive the financial help he needed to attend a college like Tulane. Instead, he said he focused on applying to merit scholarships and put a lot of work into his Dean’s Honors Scholarship application.

“Every family has its own individual situation financially and I just feel personally like a government entity telling people what its financial need is for college isn’t always representative of what the family’s actual need is,” Lacoste said. “[With merit aid], they determine on their own what their family can afford as opposed to the government telling them.”

Moving forward

Though some students said are concerned that Tulane is moving away from merit-based aid, other students said it is a necessary step toward achieving a more diverse student body.

“If they really want to have this diverse location and not have all their students just be from rich white northern areas, they need to step the fuck up with their funding, especially for minority kids and for kids from low-income families in the south,” sophomore Sydney Thomas said.

According to Dattagupta, the initiative is meant to ensure all students from all walks of life will have the resources to attend.

“For a lot of students, Tulane was a place that they really wanted to come to, but if they came from a family that perhaps couldn’t afford it, we weren’t meeting all of their financial need,” Dattagupta said.

Though Dattagupta said he is satisfied with progress Tulane has achieved so far in forming a more diverse campus, he envisions that the school’s student body will become continue to become more diverse in future years.

“We’ve just gotten started, in our opinion, and it’s an exciting time to be at Tulane,” Dattagupta said. “It’s also exciting to see that some of the moves that we’ve made are actually producing results.”

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