New study classifies affordability of US colleges | The Triangle

New study classifies affordability of US colleges

The average net price of attendance for low-income students of Drexel University is $26,588, according to a new study. The study, titled “Undermining Pell: Volume III,” was released in March 2016 and follows two similar studies released in previous years, Undermining Pell: Volumes I & II. The aim of the most recent report was to examine the amount of financial aid given by four-year colleges in the United States to low-income students. For the purposes of the study, low-income students were defined as those whose families earned an annual income of $30,000 or less.

The study was based on two criteria: the percentage of students classified as Pell Grant recipients that were enrolled by these colleges, and the average net price of attendance paid by low-income students yearly. The data from the study was taken from the 2013-14 academic year, and was reported directly from the colleges to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Schools included in the study were grouped into two categories: private nonprofit colleges and public colleges. Public colleges were placed into two subcategories: High Net Price and Low Net Price. Private nonprofit colleges were further broken down into four subcategories: High Pell/Low Net Price, Low Pell/Low Net Price, Low Pell/High Net Price, and High Pell/High Net Price. High or low Pell refers to the fraction of students enrolled by the colleges who are classified as Pell Grant recipients, with High Pell being classified as 15% or more of the student body and Low Pell being classified as less than 15%. Low Net Price was any net annual cost of attendance for low-income students which amounted to less than $10,000, with High Net Price classified as any amount greater than $10,000.

Drexel University, classified as a private nonprofit college with an endowment of over $500 million, fell under the category of High Pell/High Net Price. Specifically, 21% of students enrolled at the university in the 2013-14 academic year were Pell Grant recipients, and the average net price for low-income students was $26,588.

The study commented that “Most of these colleges [private nonprofit colleges with endowments greater than $500 million in the category of High Pell/High Net Price] are very active in the financial aid arms race – doling out substantial amounts of merit aid to compete for top students.”

Randall C. Deike, Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, offered some additional information on categorizing universities based on their endowment.

“Selecting institutions based on total endowment is extremely problematic,” Deike explained. “The better metric is endowment per student. The reason it’s a better metric is because you basically take total endowment and divide by total students enrolled,” he continued.

Essentially, endowment per student takes into account not only the amount of money a university has been endowed, but also the size of their student body. A university with a greater amount of capital and fewer students will likely have more money available to dedicate to student aid.

Drexel’s endowment per student, according to Deike’s estimate, is roughly $35,000. New York University, which was listed under the same category as Drexel with a slightly lower net price, has an endowment per student of approximately $62,000. Ivy League universities, by comparison, have been known to have significantly higher endowments per student. University of Pennsylvania, for example, comes in at just under $470,000 per student, which is over ten times that of Drexel.

“One of, if not the highest priority for Drexel University, is recruiting and enrolling right-fit students, who know and understand Drexel, and supporting them to be successful. Our goal is to increase retention rates and graduation rates. Incorporating a greater need-based component into how we award financial aid would obviously be the most beneficial,” Deike stated.

Deike also noted that the data used in this study comes from the 2013-2014 academic year, and that as of fall 2015 Drexel has undergone significant change in their financial aid distribution process. The university now offers the solely need-based Drexel Grant to students who qualify.

As the study suggests, Drexel also offers a significant amount of merit aid, offering a variety of achievement-based scholarships such as the A.J. Drexel Scholarship and the Westphal Portfolio Scholarship.

Other colleges in the University City region of Philadelphia were also included in the study. The University of Pennsylvania, also classified as a private nonprofit college, fell under the category of Low Pell/Low Net Price. Swarthmore College and Haverford College, just outside of Philadelphia, also shared this classification.

“This group [private nonprofit colleges in the category of Low Pell/Low Net Price] includes five Ivy League institutions: Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. These colleges are so rich that they can afford to be need-blind in admissions and to meet the full financial need of students with grant aid. Yet, they have long been bastions of privilege, enrolling only a small share of low-income students,” the study stated.

Saint Joseph’s University and Villanova University, both private colleges in or near the Philadelphia region, fell under the classification of Low Pell/High Net Price. Temple University, a public university, was classified under the category High Net Price.

The conclusion of the study claimed that “A college’s commitment to helping low-income students can’t be measured along a single dimension. It matters how many low-income students they enroll and how much these students are asked to pay.”

The report goes on to warn that some individuals will, as they have in the past, continue to evaluate colleges only by the proportion of their enrolled Pell Grant recipients, and not on any net price data.