The subject of paying for college has captivated college campuses across the country since President Obama announced his desire to lower tuition cost in his State of the Union address in January.
In an effort to get more information on the state of tuition as it applies to Case Western Reserve University, The Observer recently communicated with Venus Puliafico, the director of university financial aid.
Greg Bokar: How does CWRU as a whole see the situation of rising tuition costs?
Venus Puliafico: I want to express how important this topic is, to not only Financial Aid/Enrollment Management, but to the entire leadership of the university. From the Board of Trustees to the President and Provost on down, the university leadership is committed to controlling costs and increasing funds available to support students.
GB: What percent of students receive financial aid and in what forms does it come to students?
VP: About 82 percent of the students receive some form of assistance. Assistance is offered in the form of gift (grant or scholarship), loan, and work depending on level of financial need.
GB: What percent of students have academic-based aid?
VP: Approximately 68 percent of students receive some form of academic-based gift assistance.
GB: What gives CWRU the ability to be generous in the financial aid that they give out in comparison to other institutions?
VP: CWRU is committed to trying to ensure access to every highly qualified applicant that wishes to attend. We want to recognize students for their academic, extracurricular, and leadership achievements. Some scholarships are supported by our endowment pool; for others, the university sets aside funds annually to support this initiative. Raising funds to support scholarships is one of the top priorities of the current capital campaign.
GB: How does the work-study program work, in a nutshell?
VP: The U.S. Department of Education provides each university with an annual dollar allocation that it can award to the highest-need students. CWRU designates specific amounts of that federal work-study to individual students who apply for financial aid and who, based on the federal calculation, are determined to have high financial need.
GB: What percent of students get work-study, and how do these work-study packages vary?
VP: Approximately 44 percent of students with financial aid have the level of need required to receive this award. The amount of work-study support awarded depends on the level of need as determined through federally mandated guidelines for calculating it.
GB: Why do many campus jobs only open their doors to students who have work-study?
VP: For the 2011-2012 academic year, the federal work-study program covers 60 percent of a student’s salary. This federal support means that individual departments who hire work-study students pay only the remaining 40 percent of the students’ salary. Departments who hire students who are not eligible for work-study must pay 100 percent of the students’ earnings.
GB: Why is it so hard for students without work-study to find campus jobs?
VP: The Student Employment Office assists students with their employment needs. We do realize that students cannot always find the right fit or find their ideal job, but 42 percent of our working undergraduate students are non-work-study.
GB: Is there likely to be an increase in work-study in the coming year?
VP: Actually, the university Office of Financial Aid just recently received the tentative allocation from the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 academic year. Unfortunately, our federal funding has been cut by 18 percent over this year. Our office does the best it can do to distribute the limited funding to our neediest students.
GB: Will work-study be available over the summer?
VP: Due to the limited funding, we will not have a summer program this year.
GB: What is the official purpose of work-study?
VP: Federal work study is a need-based program designed to assist the neediest students with their educational expenses. Since students who have this award in their financial aid package must work and are paid semi-monthly, it is each student and family’s decision how those funds cover their costs. Funds can be used to make payments to their account, buy books, or for personal expenses.
GB: How are merit-based scholarships proportioned amongst a class of applying students?
VP: Scholarships are distinct from need-based grants in that they are awarded based on the overall strength of students’ applications. Each application is reviewed individually to determine student eligibility for this merit-based aid.
GB: How does CWRU compare to other institutions when it comes to merit scholarships?
VP: Because of the extraordinary diversity among the scholarship programs at universities and colleges, it is not possible to make valid comparisons among schools. The structure, number, nature, individual amounts, and total amounts of scholarship assistance just vary far too much to make a generalized statement.
GB: Is any scholarship a student receives factored into whether or not they get financial aid?
VP: Internal scholarships are gift funding and are considered as a form of support, when the university calculates the overall financial aid package. This approach aligns with federal guidelines for the calculation of financial need.