Cornell to match financial aid offers of peer universities

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Claudia Wheatley

As high school seniors are polishing up their college applications, Cornell is jockeying to lure more of the brightest freshmen to Ithaca.

Cornell has announced it will match the need-based financial aid for admitted students who are also accepted to other Ivy League schools and will strive to match the need-based financial aid from Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.

"We're explicitly saying if you have a better aid offer from another Ivy institution, bring it to us, and we'll give you more grant aid. It won't be loans," said Tom Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis.

The policy will kick in for prospective freshmen and transfer students applying for fall 2011 admission. It applies to U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents and international students who are offered aid from Cornell.

The new policy is based in part on responses to the 2009 Accepted Students Questionnaire. Of the students who said where they planned to enroll, they most often chose the Ivies, Stanford, Duke or MIT over Cornell, Keane said. Princeton and Harvard were each the choice of 7 percent of accepted students who declined Cornell; UPenn and MIT were each the choice of 5 percent; Duke and Yale were each the choice of 4 percent; and Columbia, Stanford and Dartmouth University were each the choice of 3 percent. "While we do not have hard evidence that financial aid was the primary factor, we think it is safe to assume that net price could be one of the top five factors," Keane said.

Cornell has no way of knowing how many students will take the university up on its offer. Thus, the range of anticipated costs is wide, from $800,000 to $1.8 million in the first year, and $2.8 million to $7.2 million over four years. Cornell has not yet announced its plan to pay for the added costs associated with the policy; Keane said fundraising is likely to play a role.

Without the new policy, some families would have paid up to $100,000 to attend Cornell rather than one of its competitors. For example, a family who earns $250,000 a year would not have qualified for aid from Cornell to pay for the $55,000 price tag. But the same family would have paid less than half that, or $25,000, for its student to go to Harvard, Keane said. "Now, we're saying that student will pay $25,000 to go to Cornell and get $30,000 in aid," he said.

For most families, the difference is likely to be much smaller, between $12,000 and $40,000 over four years -- which is not an unsubstantial sum, Keane said. "If the Cornell Financial Aid Office handed you $10,000 a year, you would say it was worth talking to them."

Some of those schools calculate financial need differently. For example, Princeton does not count home equity in its needs calculation, but Cornell does. And while most of the Ivies do not offer loans in their aid packages, Cornell does.

Nonetheless Cornell will take those differences into consideration, Keane said. "We're trying to make it such that the net price to a family is not a factor in their college choice when we're competing with this set of our peer colleges."


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