Financial aid taking slow economy into account

Becky Bowman

Most years, the Office of Financial Aid assumes that the average family’s income will increase over the year and takes that into account when deciding aid packages. But because of the downturn in the U.S. economy, financial aid will not take this for granted when they start discussing incoming student packages next week, Associate Provost for University Enrollment Rebecca Dixon said.

“We are not counting on freshman families being able to contribute much more than this year’s freshman,” Dixon said.

Although the number of current students seeking extra help with paying tuition has not increased this year, Dixon said, more parents of prospective students have contacted financial aid office this year. Most are worried that they will not receive enough money if their aid package is based solely on 2001 finances.

Students accepted during early decision this year needed more aid than they have in the past. They tend to need less aid than those who apply regular decision, Dixon said. She does not yet know exactly how much financial need regular decision applicants will have.

“We have no idea whether it’s going to be a rich group of needy students or not,” she said.

Administrators will also announce the price of 2002-03 tuition early next week, senior Vice President for Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine said.

The economy will not factor into renewed aid packages for students unless they contact the office, Dixon said. Students should let the office know immediately about changes in their family’s circumstances so that the office can adjust packages accordingly, she said.

“We know from year to year what the sophomore class will tend to be able to do as juniors,” she said.

In an e-mail Saturday, financial aid staff asked students to renew their aid applications online instead of on paper, Dixon said. Although the number of students applying for admission has risen recently, the increase for online aid applications was not as high, she said.

“We’re definitely trying to save on killing trees and postage and all that,” Dixon said.

To ensure that students would be able to apply online, the office polled incoming students last year on their amount of Internet access. Ninety-three percent of students receiving aid from the school reported that they could access the Internet, versus 95 percent of students not receiving grants, she said.

Tim Woerner, who applied and was accepted to Northwestern during early decision, said he took advantage of the online versions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the College Scholarship Service profile in December.

“I think it’s easier online,” said Woerner, whose classmates will be NU’s first to access their aid packages online.

“There are no worries about losing things in the mail that way, not just because of anthrax but because things can get lost,” he said. “It’s also more instant. You can find out if everything’s there or if you need to call.”