More Schools Expand Financial Aid

Rice University, the University of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins now offer scholarships to middle-income students.
More Schools Expand Financial Aid

Pavilion VIII at the Lawn of the University of Virginia. (Photo by Karen Blaha via Wikimedia Commons)


THREE UNIVERSITIES recently have joined the ranks of schools seeking to make college more affordable by offering expanded aid to middle-income students:

Rice University in Houston has unveiled The Rice Investment, a new initiative that will award full-tuition scholarships to degree-seeking undergraduates with family incomes of between US$65,000 and $130,000 who are eligible to receive need-based financial aid. In addition, students with family incomes between $130,000 and $200,000 are eligible to receive scholarships covering at least half of their tuition. Support for students from low-income families also will be significantly enhanced under the program, and students with family incomes below $65,000 will receive grant aid covering not only their full tuition, but also all of their mandatory fees and room and board. The plan takes effect this fall.

The Rice Investment also will reduce the burden of student debt. Degree-seeking undergraduate students from families with incomes up to $200,000 who qualify for The Rice Investment will no longer be required to take out loans, but instead will receive scholarships and grants. Students who receive financial aid still will be expected to contribute toward the cost of attendance through moderate earnings from summer and academic year jobs.

The university is undertaking a $150 million fundraising campaign to support the program. “This bold step reflects our founding principles,” says Rice president David Leebron. “When Rice opened its doors in 1912, we didn’t charge tuition. Rice changed its charter in 1965 to begin charging tuition, but immediately began offering scholarships to eligible students. This significantly builds on that legacy and on our commitment to make a Rice education accessible and affordable for students from all backgrounds.”

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville also is promising to make tuition free or significantly lower for low- and middle-income students. New university president Jim Ryan made that pledge during his October 2018 inauguration speech, as reported in the school’s newspaper, The Cavalier Daily.

Ryan said that Virginia students whose families earn less than $80,000 and have “typical assets” will be able to attend the school tuition-free. Those whose families earn less than $30,000 also will be eligible for free room and board.

In his speech, Ryan said, “I see a community that opens wide the door to opportunity for first-generation, low-, and middle-income students. There is more work to be done in this space, but we might as well get started.”

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has received a $1.8 billion commitment from businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to be used exclusively to provide financial aid to undergraduate students.

The donation enables the school to become permanently “need-blind” with regard to admissions; to offer financial aid packages that do not include loans, which will reduce student debt; to reduce family contributions for lowand middle-income families; to provide comprehensive student support for first-generation and low-income families; and to increase the enrollment of students eligible for Pell Grants. These adjustments will be effective with the fall 2019 semester. In addition, the university will implement an extensive outreach and recruitment program to reach academically qualified students from middle- and low-income backgrounds.

“College is a great leveler,” Bloomberg writes in a November 19, 2018, op-ed in The New York Times explaining why he made the donation. “Multiple studies have shown that students who attend selective colleges—no matter what their family’s background—have similar earnings after graduation. But too many qualified kids from low- and middle-income families are being shut out.” He also calls for state and federal governments to make new commitments to improve access to college for these students. He concludes, “There may be no better investment that we can make in the future of the American dream—and the promise of equal opportunity for all.”