Tuition hikes lead to more need-based grants

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José Healy
News Editor

The scholarships allocation system at the University of Dallas used to consider many subjective variants before Dr. John Plotts arrived in December 2008 as the new Vice President of Enrollment.

Besides the customary elements for consideration – high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores – the Office of Admission and Financial Aid also took into account more “subjective” elements, such as a student’s being the captain of the soccer team or the president of a club, Plotts explained in an interview on Feb. 3.

In recent years, the Office of Admissions has modified the system, and now bases its scholarship awards solely on two factors, which receive nearly equal weight: high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores.

Those two elements determine the total amount of academic scholarship an incoming student will receive annually.

Prospective students can log on to the “Financial Aid” page of the UD website and enter their high school GPA and SAT or ACT scores into the Net Price Calculator to find out exactly how much they will receive in academic scholarship money from the university.

Currently, the scholarship awards that a student will earn range from $5,000 to $18,000 a year. At the same time, National Merit Scholars – students who earned high scores in the PSAT in 11th grade – and individuals who obtain a perfect score in the SAT receive a full-tuition scholarship at UD.

According to Plotts, the scholarship amounts have not increased in the past academic years in proportion to tuition hikes.

Tuition costs have gone from $23,250 in the 2008-2009 academic year to $27,500 in the current academic year, an increase of over $4,000 in four years. Scholarship awards have remained stable, and the $20,000 “Trustee” scholarship category was recently discontinued.

However, Plotts said that the university has increased need-based grants – which are calculated from the FAFSA – in order to supply for the rise in tuition.

“We try to help the neediest students,” Plott said.

For the current academic year, UD awarded $15 million from a combination of academic scholarships and need-based grants to students across all grade levels. About $500,000, or 3 percent of that amount, is donated money.

“This is not real money – this is just people getting a discount on their tuition,” Plotts explained.

Unlike other universities, UD’s scholarship endowments and donations do not suffice to cover a significant fraction of scholarship awards. Given that scholarship awards are “discounts” in tuition, UD could simply lower tuition costs and award proportionate amounts in scholarships and need-based grants, making the cost of attendance appear far less expensive to applicants.

However, reducing the cost of tuition would be at odds with the caliber of the students and the image the university wants to maintain, Plotts said.

Instead, UD determines its tuition rates based on an analytical comparison of its “major competitors” – such as Catholic University of America, Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Texas Christian University, Austin’s St. Edward’s University, Austin College and San Antonio’s Trinity University, to name the principal ones.

“If your school only costs $10,000, it can’t be as good … that’s the way a lot of people think,” Plotts said. “We have to project ourselves like we belong to that group. But, we also want our students to afford to come here.”

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