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Cornell's Financial Aid Woes

We have already talked about Cornell's dedication to undergraduate financial aid, and how it is dedicating a greater share of its resources towards financial aid than its peer schools. But even in light of Cornell's generosity, it just doesn't appear to be wealthy or well-endowed enough to keep up with the other top private institutions on a peer student basis. And this disadvantage is really coming to light this admissions cycle.

Over on a popular message board for high school students, admitted students are eagerly trying to make their decision about which school to attend, and this post is really quite illuminating:


Cornell grant aid: $2,000/year

Princeton grant: $32,000/year

Harvard grant: $35,000/year

...The sad thing is, I totally would've gone to Cornell over Harvard and Princeton if the financial aid was in any way decent. But with this kind of difference, it's goodbye Cornell.

But why would the student voluntarily choose Cornell over Harvard and Princeton? Well, in the student's own words:

I'm from NYC, but still working class, and Cornell felt comfortable in a way others didn't. Cornell's "any person, any study" thing did actually seem to be reflected in the students I met there, and it's an idea I like. The math department was very friendly, and after talking to several profs about math excitedly for a while I got the notion that prof interaction would, in fact, be possible as long as I seek it out. I like Ithaca and outdoors stuff, and I figure I have plenty of time to live in a city after college. The presence of the state-funded schools seems to give more academic/career goal diversity to Cornell than those other places, and it felt more down-to-earth.

Wouldn't it be nice if the student could choose between Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell without factoring cost into the equation? Isn't that one of the underlying ideas behind the Ivy League? The issue is already posing a big threat to Ivy League Athletics, and it looks like its going to inform the decisions of a lot of common admits as well. Cornell has enough to worry about in competing with schools that offer merit based financial aid packages... like Tufts, Emory, Vanderbilt, or WashU.

It's clear that the time has come for the University to take more creative steps towards financial aid for undergraduates.

How would a tuition discount but pledging a certain percentage of future income work out for students? Or what if the University was able to convince 200,000 alums to donate $1,000 each (or more) for financial aid purposes. That would net at least a $200M endowment, or at least $10M a year for financial aid. Perhaps this type of policy, in conjunction with some other innovative policy ideas might help to bring Cornell back to a proper competitive level.

But in another development on the financial aid front, it seems like Cornell's Financial Aid office has run into some trouble calculating financial aid packages for all accepted students. Three weeks after students have received their acceptance letter, and a week before they need to make one of the biggest decisions of their life, a fair number of students have not received their financial aid information.

That is a little troubling, if you ask us.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 26, 2008 (#)

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