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 www.studentaffairs.columbia.edu/finaid. For details about the new enhancements offered by the School of General Studies, visit www.columbia.edu/cu/gs/announcement.