Financial aid office prepares for increased need

Josh Goodman

Making ends meet is hard in a single-parent household making $15,000-20,000 per year.   Throw in Whitman’s annual tuition plus living expenses: over $45,000: and it’s impossible without financial aid.

That’s the reality for sophomore Alex Kearns.

She is one of many students anxiously waiting to see how the economic downturn, which has shrunk Whitman’s endowment and many families’ college savings, will affect her financial aid package.

Financial aid by itself isn’t enough for Kearns. “The only reason I am able to attend Whitman is because we had some money in the stock market,” said Kearns.

This leaves her needing more aid at precisely the time the college has less money.

Fortunately, despite budget cutbacks elsewhere, the 2009-10 budget for financial aid will increase in anticipation of the greater need among incoming and returning students.

“Our commitment first and foremost is to current students,” said Dean of Financial Aid Tony Cabasco. “We’ve created a plan to allow us the flexibility to keep our commitment to providing significant financial aid to current students, provide for some expected increase in financial need for families impacted by the economic recession, continue to recruit and retain academically talented students, and maintain the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of the campus community.”

The exact details aren’t available, since current students have until Apr. 15 to apply for aid, and most admitted students won’t decide where they go to college: and what aid they accept: until April.

“People [ask] if there’s some new program we’re doing: no, we’re not doing that,” Cabasco said.   “We’ve given ourselves the flexibility to help both returning students and new students.”

That means the college can offer more aid through existing avenues.

“We’ve already had 10-15 students and families come forward for various reasons [last fall], mostly related to parents losing a job,” Cabasco said.   “We’ve been able to make adjustments to [their] financial aid packages for this spring.”

As unemployment climbs and investments decline, Casbasco expects more applications for aid.

“Right now, compared to a year ago this time, about nine percent more applicants have applied for need-based aid,” said Cabasco.   That amounts to 65 percent of applicants.

Among   students admitted through early decision, Cabasco said, “Financial aid is up a little bit but within the range of what we’ve seen in the past few years.”  

Current students can expect more aid to be available when needed, particularly in the event of a parent losing their job.

Stocks and other investments, however, will have less of an effect.

“Some of those families will see [their stocks] go down and will feel needier, but [that may] not greatly impact their demonstrated need,” said Cabasco.

For instance, home equity and official retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, are not taken into account when determining demonstrated need.

The Financial Aid Office recommends that students and families fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile on time and seek assistance from financial aid officers if needed.

Meanwhile, students are taking matters into their own hands.

“This summer I will be working two full-time shifts so that I can help pay for tuition and study abroad fees,” Kearns said.

But for her, it’s worth it.

“I see my education as an investment, something that will ultimately pay off in the long run,” Kearns said.

Right now, it might be the most dependable investment around.