I heard this week from a father from Southern California whose son will soon be starting his sophomore year at American University in Washington DC. He has a daughter who is also interested in attending college on the East Coast.
Here is part of his email:
My son loves AU which fits his interest in politics and government, but as you have documented, it is not particularly generous with financial aid. We knew this going in, but it has gotten worse as he heads into his second year.
When parents look at colleges they assume that whatever financial aid they receive during their child’s freshman year will remain the same for four years as long as their financial situation doesn’t change. Some assume that the aid will increase as the cost of the school climbs.
Higher-Ed Bait and Switch
In reality, however, some schools practice the higher-ed version of the bait and switch. They offer the best packages to high school seniors who are often shopping for the best deal. Once the students have gotten settled in, the schools offer subsequent packages that are stingier. Schools figure, “Hey, is this kid really going to leave if we shave a few thousand dollars from his package?”
How can you tell if a school is going to pull a bait and switch on your child?
The best way is to check an institution’s past behavior. You can look at a school’s financial aid track record by heading over to COLLEGEdata, which is a great resource for researching the generosity of colleges and universities.
When I checked out American University’s track record, I was shocked at how much the financial support drops for students after their freshmen year.
To retrieve the relevant statistics for any school, click the Search for Colleges link on COLLEGEdata’s home page. Then type the name of the university in the box. After pulling up the school’s profile, click on its Money Matters link.
Here is what I found for American University:
The top red arrow shows the percentage of financial aid that American University says it typically meets for freshmen. The school says that it meets 82% of need and that includes a federal student loan. I should mention that the figures for all schools are self reported and not verified.
Next take a look at the figure that the second red arrow is highlighting. The school admits that it only meets 61% of need for all undergraduates. Since freshmen are also included in this number, the percentage for other undergrads has to be even lower! So once students at American University get their first financial aid packages good luck with the next three years!
Hall of Shame Schools
As I’ve mentioned many times before, schools located in cities on the East and West Coasts, which aren’t among the most elite, tend to offer mediocre financial aid packages. Fitting this description are such schools as:
- American University
- Catholic University
- Drexel University
- Fordham University
- Loyola Marymount University
- New School
- New York University
- Northeastern University
- Pratt Institute
- St. Joseph’s University
- Santa Clara University
- University of San Diego
All the schools in the above list are on the federal government’s hall of shame list that is comprised of the top five percent of colleges and universities that charge the nation’s highest net prices after typical scholarships and grants are deducted. You can see the whole list at the federal College Affordability and Transparency Center.
One last thing that I’d like to point out is the average need-based grant of $17,893 for all AU undergraduates at American University is almost identical with the average non-need-based aid – merit scholarships for rich students - $17,486. Does anybody else find it appalling that this school gives nearly the same amount of money to wealthy students as it does to those who truly need a helping hand?
Don’t judge a college or university solely by how it treats it freshmen. Also judge the school by how it treats its other students when fewer people are watching.