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Miami financial aid on par with Ohio schools

By Amanda Hancock
On January 29, 2013

While financial aid helps lessen the burden of tuition payments, some colleges seem to be better than others at providing students help.

According to Brent Shock, Miami University's director of student financial assistance, Miami awarded nearly $15.2 million in institutionally need-based scholarship and grants last school year.

Of those students awarded grants and scholarships, Shock said Miami met 59 percent of students' calculated need on average.

College Board, a not-for-profit membership association for higher education, reported similar numbers. According to College Board, Miami's average financial aid package is $11,532 and 58 percent of financial need is met on average.

In comparison, Bowling Green State University met 59 percent, Kent State met 49 percent and Ohio State University met 55 percent of students' calculated need, according to both Shock and College Board.

Several higher-price colleges such as Yale University and Vanderbilt University report that they have met, on average, 100 percent of their admitted full-time undergraduate students' financial need. Another example, University of Notre Dame, meets 99 percent.

The main difference between those universities is endowment sizes, Shock said.

"It's based on what alumni and friends of the university and funds that spin off the endowment," Shock said.

He added that universities that have been around longer tend to have more funding.

Need is determined when students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. The information provided by students is then pushed through a formula established by Congress and the result is a number called the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, Shock said.

"After determining the costs, we take the costs, subtract from that number the EFC and the resulting difference is called need," Shock said.

So the gap between Miami's total cost of attendance and the average student's EFC was 59 percent paid for with some combination of aid.

Senior Erica Howes from Washington said she is faced with daunting out-of-state tuition costs.

"It's really hard to qualify for some financial aid options even though I could really use the help," Howes said.

The process of determining how much aid students are awarded can be complicated and is up to the school and higher education.

Determining need is formulaic, with little room for adjustment.

"After a student completes the FAFSA and the U.S. Department of Education calculates the EFC, Miami receives the data and we construct an estimated cost of attendance for the school year," Shock said.

This cost of attendance includes costs for tuition, fees, room, board, transportation, books, etc.

All colleges use this formula and then each college determines how to fill their students' need.

The majority of Miami students are receiving some type of financial assistance, whether it be scholarships, grants or loans. Right now, about 76 percent of students at the Oxford campus are receiving aid, Shock said.  

The percentages fluctuate from year to year based on the relative need of the student body, the profile of the incoming class and available scholarships, according to Shock.

While the current percentage of needs met ranks well next to other Ohio colleges, Shock said the advancement office on campus is working hard to increase the number of scholarships available, including those based on a combination of merit and need. The goal is to raise $50 million in additional funds for scholarships, he said.

The quicker that number is raised, the better for many Miami students, including Howes.

"Everyone knows college is expensive, but the expense seems to be more real for some students than others," Howes said.

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