Connecticut College News
The Cost of Conn: Understanding Financial Aid - By Ben Eagle ´0904/6/2009
For many high school students the most agonizing part of the college application process is over: they got accepted. But for the parents, the agonizing process is just beginning. How are they going to pay for it? One answer for many families is financial aid. And, for those families that are applying to Connecticut College, they are in luck - the school increased their financial aid budget to around $20 million this year, up from $19.7 million last year, according to Elaine Solinga, Director of Financial Aid. Given the current economic downturn however, more students will inevitably qualify for aid meaning even though there is a budget increase the financial aid budget might not go as far. So how then, does the Connecticut College Office of Financial Aid intend to make ends meet? The first step, according to Solinga, is attempting to convince parents that college is a good investment. "Parents who write out a check for a roof see the results immediately," Solinga said. "But they might not see the results of a college education for eight to ten years." Parents, according to Solinga, want to see tangible results from college such as a job or acceptance to graduate school. For those that deem college a worthy investment, the next step is a bit more difficult. Solinga, and the Office of Financial Aid must then determine how much the parents of a financial aid candidate will contribute to tuition. In any other year, the parents previous reported annual income would suffice, but with layoffs rampant in every sector, forecasting becomes a bit more difficult. "Budget planning consists of economics and gut instincts," Solinga said. "With an emphasis on the gut instincts." On average, students receive $32,000 in financial aid. Of that average, $27,000 comes from institutional grants, or in other words, directly from Connecticut College´s pocket. Thus maintaining a strong financial aid budget is key to helping students who might not otherwise be able to afford a Connecticut College education. To ensure the stability of both the financial aid program and the college on the whole, President Lee Higdon and Paul Maroni Vice President for Finance have built contingency plans into the budget to weather any storm. Normally, there is a $1.2 million contingency plan put in place with every budget. "Historically," Maroni said in an Open Town Meeting Friday afternoon, "that has been plenty. [But in the future] it might not be enough." Thus, the College has added an almost $4 million cushion which, "should get us through anything," Maroni said. Solinga underscored the importance of such a cushion. While other departments have been encouraged to scale back their budgets, it´s almost inevitably acknowledged that Financial Aid will go over budget. While the cushion can enable the Office of Financial Aid to help incoming students, where it will most likely be most effective is in helping retain current students. Even though Solinga did not see an increase in appeals from current students, the office was able to help those students that did appeal. This year, the college has admitted and awarded financial aid to 682 students. "Now," President Higdon said, "we just have to see how many of these applicants we can yield." Yield, or the amount of students that opt to attend Connecticut College is especially important for a tuition-dependent institution like CC. It is this number that will be keeping Solinga on her toes until the class of 2013 is finalized. But, where other institutions are cutting back academic programs and decreasing financial aid, Connecticut College remains strong. "The climate is sobering," President Higdon said as he concluded the Open Town Meeting, "but we´re making real progress."