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‘I’m not surprised’: Reports reveal Miami enrolls fewer low-income students than peer institutions

Miami University may not be prioritizing enrolling low-income students who receive federal aid, according to two reports released this year. 

National think tank Education Reform Now (ERN) singled out seven Ohio schools for enrolling the fewest low and middle-income students with Pell Grants statewide, according to its report released on Jan. 22. Miami has the lowest percentage in the state of Ohio and the second lowest of all public schools in the country, second only to the College of William and Mary.

The ERN report states that from 2015 to 2017, an average of 11 percent of Miami first-years received a Pell Grant, while Ohio’s average was 29 percent. A study done by College Board showed during that same period the national average was 33 percent.  

Pell Grants are loans from the government that do not require repayment, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Grant amounts are dependent on a family’s yearly income, the cost of college tuition, whether a student is a full-time or a part-time student and whether a student is able to attend university for a full academic year. To apply for a Pell Grant, a student needs to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 

Stephen Burd, a writer and editor with New America, a Washington D.C.-based think tank,  examined the money spent toward students who are not permitted by the federal government to receive financial aid in a report, “How Enrollment Management and the Merit-Aid Arms Race Are Derailing Public Higher Education.” The report, which was released on Feb. 13, lists 10 universities that increased their merit based aid tenfold over 16 years.

“I’m not surprised [by these reports]. I don’t think Miami represents financially-challenged individuals very well,” said Mary Boehm, a first-year Pell Grant-receiving Miami student. “Miami likes to talk about its diverse culture, [but] when you look around, everyone looks the same. They look expensive, they look privileged, and it's hard to relate to people who say they struggle when they have the ability to pay to go to school.” 

Burd’s report concludes Miami increased its merit based aid by $41 million from 2001 to 2017, a number taken from the “Common Data Set” published by Miami’s Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness. 

This same data set shows that Miami has increased its merit aid by 59 percent from the 2014-2015 academic year to the 2018-2019 academic year — the most current data available. Need-based aid has only increased by 54 percent over the same period.

But Brent Shock, interim associate vice president for enrollment management and student success, believes that Burd and ERN did not contextualize all of the variables universities calculate in giving aid to students. 

“The falling birth rates after the Great Recession ... [along with] the declining numbers of high school graduate students [is the reasoning for the spike in aid],” Brent said. “One of the top factors influencing college selection is the cost of attendance.” 

“There are less students but the same amount of universities, influencing all universities to give incentives to students in the form of scholarships to attract them to come,” Brent added. 

Miami has the highest in-state tuition cost out of all Ohio public universities, with a cost of $30,033 for Fall 2019 for first-time students, according to OneStop, the university enrollment and financial aid office. The $30,033 includes the cost of tuition, instructional fees and general fees at $15,909, and the cost of housing and meals averaging at $14,124. 

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Claire Wagner, director of university news and communications at Miami, told The Miami Student the university’s Pell numbers have improved since the 2015-2017 data used in the ERN report. 

“Over the previous three years, Miami has increased the number of Pell Grant-receiving students by [nearly] 7 percent,” Wagner said.

Assuming that is the case, Miami would still fall far below the Ohio state average.

Wagner believes that the ERN report did not fully represent the support that Miami provides to low and middle-class students. 

Just last year, only about 9 percent of all undergraduates enrolled at Miami used Pell Grants to fund their education in some capacity during the 2018-2019 school year.