Feb. 24, 2017

Report in progress on admissions, financial aid policy options

A draft report on admissions and financial aid policy options is moving forward with upcoming presentations planned to gather input from academic leaders and undergraduate students.

The draft report being prepared by the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group (AFAWG) offers options and approaches for university leaders to consider should a new economic crisis like the one experienced in 2008-09 require action to sustain Cornell’s undergraduate financial aid.

The report includes a suite of options for possible changes to loan levels and the income brackets associated with different loan maximums; expected parent contribution formulas; approaches to financial aid for international and transfer students; as well as Cornell’s possible participation in the Private 529 College Savings Program, through which families would be able to “purchase tomorrow’s tuition at today’s rates,” Senior Vice Provost Barbara Knuth said.

Knuth discussed the draft report in February with the University Faculty’s Financial Policies Committee, and she will discuss the report with academic deans Feb. 28 and with the Student Assembly’s Financial Aid Review Committee March 10.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff will join the full Student Assembly on March 9 to talk about undergraduate student access and affordability, including reference to the AFAWG draft options. Based on this community input, the working group will revise and finalize its list of options. The report will then be shared with the Board of Trustees for discussion at their March meeting. No immediate actions on any of the report’s options are expected at this time.

Kotlikoff created the AFAWG when he began his term as provost in 2015, to monitor undergraduate admissions, enrollment and financial aid, and make policy recommendations to keep the admissions process aligned with the university’s mission and founding principles, including open access and diversity.

As part of the university’s commitment to provide access to all qualified students regardless of financial need, Cornell has tripled the amount it spends on grant aid in the past 20 years. In fiscal 2016, Cornell awarded $231 million in need-based grant aid to students from families at multiple income levels.

In describing possible options for changes, the working group considered available resources and potential risks and opportunities. The final report will assist in and support decision-making on managing financial aid expenditures that can satisfy Cornell’s commitment to its students and academic mission, while sustaining the same level of opportunity for future students.

Chaired by Knuth, the AFAWG includes five undergraduate college deans, vice presidents, vice provosts, faculty, undergraduate students and staff.

In 2016, Cornell implemented two key recommendations proposed by the group: Need-aware admissions for international students, so that the university could fully meet the financial need of every admitted undergraduate; and including undocumented undergraduates with DACA status within Cornell’s U.S. citizen/permanent resident policies for undergraduate admissions and financial aid.

This academic year, the working group is focusing on two financial aid issues: long-term sustainability, and fairly addressing need across socioeconomic groups.

“Sustainability focuses on being prepared should there be another global economic downturn, by identifying and evaluating possible options for controlling expenditures on grant aid while continuing Cornell’s commitment to providing access for all qualified students,” Knuth said.

“The issue of fairness considers the extent to which financial aid programs address need across socioeconomic groups,” she said, explaining that some financial aid parameters, such as income cut-offs for some loan levels, “have not been adjusted since they were established in 2008. As U.S. family income distribution has shifted, it may be appropriate to shift Cornell’s income brackets for receiving reduced loan levels, and more grant aid, in financial aid packages.”

The working group developed its current draft options based on careful deliberation and analysis of comprehensive data sets from Cornell with peer and national comparisons, and identified several approaches for consideration by Cornell leadership.

The draft report “affirms several key principles,” Knuth said: “A primary goal for Cornell’s undergraduate financial aid program is to create as high-quality and diverse a community of scholars as possible with the grant funds available; students and families should have a significant stake in their Cornell education, reflecting their financial capabilities now and into the future; student contributions should be expected for all income groups; parent contributions are reasonable to expect for most income groups; and loans are an appropriate component of most financial aid packages – particularly considering the value of a Cornell education in enabling students to earn enough income to reasonably pay back loans.”