Mo’ Money, Less Problems

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BucksAlthough the formal announcement in all of our inboxes is still pending, the Times has already reported the details of Columbia’s big financial aid plan this morning.

The main points:

  • Families making $60,000 or less per year will no longer pay tuition, room and board, or fees as of Fall 2008
  • Grants will replace loans in financial aid packages, including those offered to current students.
  • Families making between $60,000 and $100,000 will have unspecified expanded aid opportunities.

The previous threshold for no-loan aid was $50,000. (Harvard maintains the same standard; compare to $75,000 at gold-standard Cornell and Dartmouth, $45,000 at Yale and $40K at Penn).

Word has it these policies apply to this year’s admits, including those who have already received Early Decision letters. Lucky dogs. There’s no statement posted on the CU website yet, but since the Times quotes PrezBo, we surmise that it can’t be far off. Full statement after the jump. Bottoms up!

Columbia University announced today that students from families with incomes below $60,000 attending Columbia College and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) will no longer be expected to borrow or contribute any of their income or assets to tuition, room, board and other fees beginning in the next academic year.

At the same time, Columbia will eliminate loans for all new and continuing students in the College and SEAS who are eligible for financial aid, regardless of family income, and replace them with University grants. This enhancement could add as much as $20,000 in Columbia-funded grants to each four-year aid package.

Families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 will see a significant reduction in the amount parents are expected to contribute toward tuition and other costs. For example, a family with $75,000 in income and typical assets will see their contribution decrease by approximately one-half. Through the replacement of need-based loans with grants, a student from a family with an income of $150,000 who is eligible for financial aid may receive as much as $5,000 per year in aid instead of a loan of that amount.

“Columbia has a record of attracting among the most socioeconomically diverse undergraduate student populations among our peer institutions through our commitment to need-blind admissions,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “We are both proud of that diversity and determined to maintain it by expanding aid to the extent our resources allow so that our students will continue to benefit from the full range of experiences that are part of a Columbia education and, we hope, part of the lives they choose to lead in the future because of those experiences.”

Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science will adopt a number of other policy changes to enhance the educational experience for all students receiving financial aid. All aid recipients will be invited to apply for exemptions from summer and academic-year work expectations when they engage in community service or accept unpaid research or internship commitments. For aid recipients studying abroad, work-study expectations will be replaced with grants.

“Our new financial aid policies reflect a more realistic view of the challenges that lower- and middle-income families face in paying for college,” said Nicholas B. Dirks, Vice President for Arts and Sciences. “While decreasing costs significantly for every College and SEAS family that qualifies for undergraduate student aid, we have reworked our formula to ensure that the most dramatic reductions help those most in need, including students attending our School of General Studies.”

The University also announced that its School of General Studies, the undergraduate school at Columbia for nontraditional students, will expand its financial aid program significantly next year. Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies, announced a 17 percent increase in its total aid budget, which will be focused on continuing students with demonstrated academic success who have the highest documented economic need and substantial loan debt. Amounting to slightly more than $1 million annually in additional scholarship assistance, the increase will affect the approximately 50 percent of General Studies undergraduate degree students who currently receive institutional financial aid.

Already, Columbia has the largest proportion of Pell grant recipients among Ivy League colleges at approximately 15 percent. Pell grants are generally available to students from families earning less than $40,000 per year. The new enhancements build on a September 2006 announcement that grants would replace loans for all families earning less than $50,000 per year in the current 2007–08 academic year.

“Columbia’s national standing has long been based upon its twin commitments to inclusiveness and excellence,” said Austin Quigley, Dean of Columbia College. “Financial aid is so important because the University’s excellence derives in significant part from its inclusiveness, from the range of voices that inform academic inquiry and social exchange. In this sense, all students benefit from our financial aid programs, whether or not they receive financial support.”

Columbia will continue to expand its well-established efforts to reach outstanding students from lower-income families, to be sure that the accessibility of college opportunities are fully understood by students and parents, especially those who are first-generation college-bound. The University pioneered such efforts four decades ago with its Double Discovery program, which became one of the models for Upward Bound in providing after-school and summer enrichment programs on Columbia’s campus for public high school students from Harlem and other New York City neighborhoods.

For many years, this commitment to inclusiveness and excellence has been demonstrated by Columbia’s allocation of significant resources to early college awareness outreach programs across the nation, building contacts in communities that have been underrepresented historically. In conjunction with the University’s new financial aid initiatives, Columbia will continue to expand partnerships with almost 500 nonprofit organizations that help students and families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, including increased outreach and sponsorship of on-campus and regional college access workshops for counselors and students.

To provide further support and guidance to students once they are enrolled at Columbia, the University’s Campaign for Undergraduate Education aims to endow further investment in career education and student advising.

“Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have longstanding commitments to both the quality and the very broad diversity of our undergraduate students,” said Gerald Navratil, Interim Dean of SEAS. “These financial aid changes announced today extend that commitment by making Columbia significantly more affordable to an even wider range of families.”

Funding for these financial aid enhancements is provided primarily by the generous alumni and friends of the University, through annual fund gifts and permanent endowments. The remainder of the needed funding will come from a combination of operating revenue, new fundraising and an increase in the endowment spending rate. Columbia is currently seeking to raise more than $440 million in undergraduate financial aid endowment. More than $260 million of this total has already been committed. Last year, Columbia’s most generous donor, John W. Kluge (CC’37), pledged $400 million for financial aid, half of which is directed to undergraduates in Columbia College.

To learn more about the new financial aid enhancements at Columbia College and SEAS, visit For details about the new enhancements offered by the School of General Studies, visit

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  1. as a wealthy student  

    what do i get out of this?

  2. reporting?  

    eh, the times is more interested in spitzer..

  3. cc08  

    That's amazing. Well done, CU.

  4. yeah  

    If the Spec's got it right, it does indeed take effect next year. (I trust them a little more than that "mega-anonymous tipster. A little.)

  5. midtermmonster  

    Spec's had the story up since 12:30.

  6. Depends  

    Spec: "The much-anticipated reforms will ... increase the School of General Studies’ total financial-aid budget by about $1 million annually."

    So they got some of the spoils, but it depends on whether you think $1 mil a year is 'shafted' or not.

  7. hooray  

    I'm actually pretty proud of Columbia for doing this.

  8. hunger striker '11  

    damnit! i can't hunger strike for this next year!

  9. ...  

    ...and the middle class is still fucked

  10. lookslikecrumbs

    The GS portion amounts to roughly $2300 per student. What the hell does that do for anyone! That number is based on the following by the way:
    appx. 1200 GS students, 70% who get aid (as per the GS website). 70% of 1200 is 840. 50% of those on aid will be affected, so that's 420. 1 million divided by 420 is appx. $2300 a student. I think that's right, unless I am a total idiot. Looks like GS is getting shafted.

    Also, when will Columbia stop following the other ivies around and actually initiate some of these financial aid changes first. They are only doing this so next year's class won't defect to Harvard or Stanford.

    • Well

      Columbia will start leading in financial aid initiatives when it starts leading in endowment. Fair enough?

      I'm curious as to where the hell the money is coming from.

      • lets translate

        "The remainder of the needed funding will come from a combination of operating revenue, new fundraising and an increase in the endowment spending rate."

        Operating Revenue: "We're going to raise the overall tuition a bit more than normal, effectively taxing the richest families to pay for the poorest"

        New Fundraising: "We're going to be calling alums twice as often and clear-cutting a small forest in Bolivia for new mailings to drum up money"

        Increase in the Endowment Spending Rate: "We're gonna dip into the endowment just a little bit. This will probably slow down its overall growth by a hair. Which means Penn will catch up faster, the schools we like to flatter ourselves to call our "peers" will move head a little faster.

        Basically Columbia decided it was worth it to try and play with the big boys. We basically smoked Penn with this deal, and are a hair ahead of Brown.

  11. well

    what do you consider the middle class?

    at any rate, yay Columbia! this means I pay nothing next year!

  12. dip

    What about international students?

  13. yeah, "middle class"  

    Median household income is around $45,000, so I'd say they've got the middle class pretty well covered. Quit bitchin you rich bastards. No more tuition for me!

    median income united states

  14. hmmm


    1) If your family makes under 60k, Free Ride (Matches Harvard)

    2) If your Family makes between 60-100k, "significant reduction" (Not exactly Harvards 10% plan, which reduces family to 10% or below their income from 60-180k)

    3) If you qualify for any financial aid whatsoever, no student loans (stafford/perkins). (Nebulous, but doesn't match Princeton's No Student Loans For Anyone standard)

    4) That 1 million for GS is a big deal relative to how much they've normally had. It's a 20% increase since they only distributed 5 million in grant aid in 2006-2007.

  15. hmm  

    if you are a senior with staffords, will they get replaced?

  16. CU Alum

    what about internationals??

  17. translation 2

    So just who benefits at Columbia?

    From the admissions website

    * About 50% of Columbia undergraduates receive some sort of financial assistance.
    * 80% of first-year students applying for financial aid received a need-based aid award.

    So, 80% of first years next year will have no student loans, and 50% overall won't in any given year.

    That's curious that so many first-years qualify for aid, but the overall number declines sharply afterward. Doing a retarded estimation, to come out with an average of 50% for all undergraduates when first years have 80%, the remaining three years have to average out at 40% each. I wonder why...

    • translation 3

      Thanks QuickSpec!

      "But this [aid reform] is so important that we're actually going to eat into principal compared to what our normal spending rule would dictate in order to do this now instead of later."

      Yup, so we're cannibalizing the endowment and praying Kluge decides to cough up the money now.

      Another clarification: "Norum added that while the School of Engineering and Applied Science cannot benefit from Kluge's gift." They'll be endowment diving too.

      Shitty job spec: "

      Since financial-aid policy at the School of General Studies is "diametrically opposite" to that of CC, as Norum put it, the new plan will affect about half of GS students currently receiving aid." *How* is it diamtrically opposite? If you meant the merit-based aspect, you don't make that clear.

      GS: More than gifts or annual funds, unrestricted endowments pay for GS financial aid. "GS doesn't have the same endowment and the annual giving to be able to increase on an unrestricted base the amount of aid they are able to award"

      I've been saying that all along... listen to the wise man.

  18. pooooor barnard girl  

    barnard barnard barnard i know your endowment is relatively tiny... but please work on financial aid!!!!!

  19. Erf

    They're making this retroactive to 2003, right? Right?

  20. Durn  

    last time I checked, my family's income was 60,100. Not even joking...

  21. Not Awn

    I understand how earmarked contributions work and I'm not looking to get bashed for posting this, but aren't there any very successful individuals out of GS that would be willing to step up and donate a ton (read: many millions) back to a school that likely gave them a shot at an Ivy League education when they otherwise wouldn't have had one?

    I realize it's a newer degree-granting division, but students often hear of very high success stories in a wide range of fields. I don't understand why the giving is so low.

    • Well

      You need to put the pressure on your school to develop those alumni with a specific eye towards endowing GS financial aid. Consider the following though- Awn is a full time professor with a teaching load. Quigley still teaches too I think (he's teaching a 20th century playwrights seminar this semester). But he probably has a lot more time to spend schmoozing donors, as that's basically his biggest job.

    • ...  

      huge loan debt leads to risk averse decision-making leads to comfortable or well off gs graduates, no gazillionaires.

      and even if there are a few, they probably feel contempt towards the school over the debt issue. tis a two way street, if the school invests in you, you will probably give back. if the school hangs you out to dry financially, well, there are probably better causes.

      on a final note. for those that cite bureaucratic structure as a legitimate reason for why gs gets the shaft. i'd like to point out that bureaucratic structure is a tool for preserving a status quo which the powers that be find acceptable. i've seen it time and time again. if there's a structural hurdle between the powers that be and their goals, power will win out in the end and bureaucracy will magically restructure to accommodate the change.

      the people running the show get what they want, period.

      • umm

        "they probably feel contempt towards the school over the debt issue."

        Sometimes I wonder about the entitlement factor. So long as you're willing to self-finance it, Columbia's willing to give you the same access to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences offerings as CC.

        Why is a reduced-debt education a right, and not a privelege?

        If we step back from people who graduated before the last 5-10 years, was there really that much financial aid for poor traditional students in CC let alone GS?

        The idea that the dearth of fin aid funding available to GS is some great historic wrong perpetuated against the school seems a bit contrived, all things considered.

        • clarification

          "Why is a reduced-debt education a right, and not a privelege?"

          I meant being able to *get a degree from Columbia* is a privilege, not a right. I'm fairly sure that there are other educational options out there for GS students that don't cost nearly as much as GS does. No one's forcing you to attend GS and pay the tuition.

          I know of at least a few students who had to turn down Columbia College for State U for financial reasons. That's sucky circumstances, not some violation of a fundamental right.

        • ...  

          nobody is arguing that it's a right. however, price discrimination clearly leads to bad blood.

          that said, given that the ivy league operates on a non-merit based financial aid system (excluding gs), i'd say that's a defacto statement from the industry that they think somewhere along those lines.

          given that academia is supposed to be a meritocracy. one would think that all financial aid would be merit based. as the situation stands today, there are gs students who outperform a number of students in cc and seas. if that is the case, don't you think the school should be offering more financial support to those who take their studies more seriously and therefore have more potential to succeed and give back?

          or do you think it's more important to protect the right to slack off and still enjoy a reduced-debt or debt free education for those in cc or seas?

  22. middlle class  

    When your parent are making more than a 100 000 a year, you are not of the middle class "middle class". And I guess if you had live my standard a living your might have a hear attack.

    Also, that numbers sited as 80% of those who apply for need based get it, not that 80% percent of all first years get need based aid.

  23. Not Awn

    I'm going to add that as a GS student, I'm really sick and tired of what's become literally dozens of whiney emails from GSSC that doesn't understand how the university endowment works (including two sent during the overnight hours). Each email asks us to immediately contact everyone we know affiliated with the university demanding it step up and essentially match the CC/SEAS structure, when it's obvious that the funds aren't there.

    I don't know how bad it is with CCSC/ESC spam, but I now send everything from the GSSC straight to the trash folder without opening. Hopefully there's nothing important coming down the pike.

    • Anonymous

      "I'm going to add that as a GS student, I'm really sick and tired of what's become literally dozens of whiney emails from GSSC that doesn't understand how the university endowment works..."

      This is a direct result of Cunningham running for GSSC President on a platform of HEY I WILL GET Y'ALL MO MONEY. BLING BLING PINKY RING WORTH ABOUT FO FITTY BLING BLING--- sorry. Look, if someone had already figured out how to make something from NOTHING, we'd all be filthy rich and own our own small third world dictatorships. Unfortunately, the real world certainly isn't as easy as we'd want it to be. Further, the majority of GS students don't even give enough of a shit to figure out how the financial aid process actually works -- ESPECIALLY with regard to endowments that can only be used in very clearly defined ways.

      "I don't know how bad it is with CCSC/ESC spam, but I now send everything from the GSSC straight to the trash folder..."

      Yeah. Cunningham likes to talk about tradition. I've found a new tradition, and it's called laughing at nearly every 'policy' statement that these chuckleheads send out. Ridiculous.

      @17: "The GS portion amounts to roughly $2300 per student. What the hell does that do for anyone!"

      Keep in mind that this additional aid is going to be on a sliding scale. The merit-based (namely GPA based) method that Skip Bailey and crew use means that I'd be -floored- if all GS students saw $2300 of additional scholarship aid in 08-09. Awn's comment (in email to GS students, not pasted here) regarding increased "enhancement" for students with greatest need and loan burden is interesting, but I feel that when the amount of additional money for this pool of candidates is made known, there's going to be a lot more sandy vaginaing going on at the GSSC.

      [NB: I'm a GS student who probably won't be able to attend class next year. I feel that while any additional financial aid news is certainly well welcomed, the sense of entitlement that the GSSC conveys in each and every statement about the financial aid problem really pisses me the fuck off. More ACTION, less WHINING about how money doesn't rain from the sky like manna.]

  24. grammar check

    FEWER problems?

  25. does this mean  

    that if columbia has ever offered you a loan, that if you re-apply you'll definitely get a grant instead now?

  26. yesman  

    YES! this is a-ma-zing. I love you columbia.

    also isn't the free market beautiful! these guys are basically competing to throw as much money as possible at poor people.

  27. fuck  

    fuck columbia. i want a refund.

  28. so wait  

    if i'm a senior w/ loans, do i still have to pay them?

    and my family's

  29. continued  

    less than 60,000... can i get a refund or something?

    i'm happy for other peoples' sake but dang... :(

  30. .......

    There was an article about how due to population and demographic patterns, getting into top colleges will be less competetive since there will be simply less applicants.

    I think all the Ivy Leagues are moving in this direction since they anticipate it will no longer be a seller's market for a college degree and that they'll have to compete harder amongst each other to recruit the top students in the country.

    Think about it, 5 years ago, Princeton's announcement to eliminat loands for ALL STUDENTS didn't trigger a financial aid arms race. But now it does.

    • well

      It's taken a while, but first Harvard 'responded' to Princeton's move about with the all families back in about 2006 under 60k are free plan. (Granted, Princeton has the most money per student floating around, and have a reputation for handing out generous aid anyway). Yale followed with a similar plan. Penn eliminated loans for students with families making under 50k, and Columbia basically matched that. A year and a half later Harvard upped the ante again, and we're all scrambling to match to the best we can.

  31. also

    I'm an alum and just got an email from Quigley. Did current students get it too?

    " We can make these enhancements now, rather than at the end of the Campaign for Undergraduate Education, because we are confident that alumni, parents, and friends of the College will help fund them through continued giving—both to the College Fund and toward the additional $140 million in financial aid endowment still needed to meet the College goals of the Campaign. As always, we are deeply grateful to those who help us meet the needs of each new generation of students seeking access to all that a Columbia education provides."

    This kinda makes me want to donate. Even a few dollars.

  32. I agree  

    with #51. The GSSC campaigned on these issues and all they do is sit around a table and talk shit to each other. Niko, nor Nancy for that matter (The VP of policy whose JOB it is to know about the financial aid stuff and do something about it) have any interest in actually working. They just want this as a resume builder.


    International students? Does this apply to them? I feel like Columbia should make a priority of making international financial aid need blind.

  34. FOS RAWKS  


  35. Anonymous  

    "given that academia is supposed to be a meritocracy." Academia is not a meritocracy. (Even entrance into academia is not entirely meritocratic, but we'll save this for another show. Quel surprise, yes?)

    "there are gs students who outperform a number of students in cc and seas. if that is the case, don't you think the school should be offering more financial support to those who take their studies more seriously..."

    This may be the case. I'm sure that, on balance, that some people would love to give more money to students who excel at their studies; I certainly would. So would the university -- encouraging higher levels of performance from students makes the university more prestigious.

    The problem is that there are restrictions on the way endowment money can be distributed. This isn't up to us, at all. And in some cases it may not be up to the people who are in charge of doling the money out.

    While what you posit is a good idea -- especially when we assume that academia is a meritocracy -- this situation is much, much different. It's not about a choice between whether or not to support the students who are willing to work the hardest and produce the most for the financial aid money.

    tl;dr: Academia ain't no meritocracy. GS ain't gettin' no money from funds earmarked for the other schools. They ain't givin money to the best students 'cause doin' so ain't that easy.

    • ...  


      "given that academia is supposed to be a meritocracy." Academia is not a meritocracy. (Even entrance into academia is not entirely meritocratic, but we'll save this for another show. Quel surprise, yes?)


      the inclusion of the word "supposed" was no accident. and don't get me started on the noisy process known as college admissions. i do wonder though: public vs. private, which places more value on merit? or more specifically, columbia vs. academia? which places more value on merit?


      tl;dr: Academia ain't no meritocracy. GS ain't gettin' no money from funds earmarked for the other schools. They ain't givin money to the best students 'cause doin' so ain't that easy.


      back to my original point. bureaucracy supports the views of those who set the priorities, not the other way around. if it were a priority for the university to provide financial support for high achieving gs students, the entire structure would change to accommodate this goal. do not fool yourself: if leadership wants it, there are no limits to how sweeping these organizational changes would be. as it stands today, the administration is perfectly happy to gouge even the highest achieving gs students. indeed, they're probably counting on it to help subsidize the new cc/seas deal.

      tl;dr: gs is ripping people off. there is a cauldron of bad blood brewing. it is likely to explode soon. don't count on any hunger striking... but clearly money talks around here, so use your imagination as to how you would make yourself a priority to this administration...

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