Cornell reaffirms financial aid commitment amid crisis

As the world grapples with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornell has reaffirmed its financial aid commitment to current and future students, and their families.

“We know this crisis may have a negative effect on many Cornell students, and we are fully committed to continuing to meet their need,” said Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment. “One of the university’s top financial priorities in the current circumstance is to make sure that students can get the money they need to begin or continue their studies.”

Cornell on March 30 announced a series of steps to contain costs without sacrificing academic excellence. Those include freezes on hiring, salaries and new construction projects, and voluntary salary reductions for the next six months taken by senior leaders including President Martha E. Pollack, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff, vice presidents, vice provosts and deans.

“Until we can better understand the full impact of COVID-19 on the economy, financial markets and the university, these steps are essential to our being able to sustain our commitment to our employees and our students and to ensuring that Cornell has the funds necessary to continue to be a world-class university,” Kotlikoff and Joanne DeStefano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in their statement.

“We’re going to respond and in plenty of time for everybody who’s trying to enroll for the fall semester. That’s an absolute commitment.”

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment

In January, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Cornell Board of Trustees approved financial planning and budget parameters for the 2020-21 academic year including a 3.6% increase in tuition, along with a significant increase in financial aid funding. That percentage increase – the same as last year’s, lower than the two previous years and in line with tuition changes announced by peer institutions earlier this year – will remain in place, but the university is committed to addressing any higher need for financial aid.

“We will work with both our new and returning students to ensure that their financial needs are met and that they can continue and complete their Cornell education,” Cornell announced.

The Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment expects to hear from families experiencing challenges such as lost income or jobs due to the coronavirus, Burdick said.

“We want to and need to hear from those students,” he said.

However, Burdick said, the office will need time to work through each case. Aid counselors’ priority through April – as always at this time of year, he said – will be supporting newly admitted students who must make college decisions by May 1. After that, focus will shift to requests for new or revised aid packages.

“We’re going to respond and in plenty of time for everybody who’s trying to enroll for the fall semester,” Burdick said. “That’s an absolute commitment.”

The university had been planning to award $279 million in undergraduate grants in 2020-21, although the university’s expectation is that changed family circumstances will necessitate an increase in that number. Institutional aid covers about one-third of all student tuition costs, Burdick said, and plans were already in place to increase the number of students receiving aid over the next five years.

For 2020-21, undergraduate tuition has been set at $58,586 for the endowed colleges and non-New York residents, and $39,244 for New York residents enrolled in the contract colleges. The total cost of attendance including room and board is $74,382 and $55,040, respectively. Tuition at most of Cornell’s professional schools increased by a similar range of 3% to 3.8%.

Cornell, Burdick said, is one of the largest U.S. universities that both conducts need-blind admissions and meets full financial aid need.

“No matter what goes on in these very troubled times economically,” he said, “we will sustain that commitment.”

Media Contact

John Carberry