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Declining undergraduate enrollment and access to merit scholarships


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According to this news article, undergraduate college enrollment is down again...another 5% from last year:

https://www.npr.org/2021/06/10/1005177324/spring-numbers-show-dramatic-drop-in-college-enrollment

I imagine that this will have huge financial impacts on colleges across the country.

I have a friend whose children were able to get full ride scholarships to the college of their choice.  (Homeschool grads 15 years ago.). Do you think that is even possible for a student given the current state of high education?   

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Our local newspaper has a special section each spring featuring graduating seniors from all the area schools, with a little blurb telling about their future plans. I noticed this year that many of them are planning to go into trades - a much higher percentage than any previous year. It makes sense, because there is a real shortage of tradespeople in this area.

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52 minutes ago, TheAttachedMama said:

 

I have a friend whose children were able to get full ride scholarships to the college of their choice.  (Homeschool grads 15 years ago.). Do you think that is even possible for a student given the current state of high education?   

What do you mean by scholarships?  There are merit scholarships and financial aid rewards.  Some people say their child got a scholarship when what they really mean was they got was admission to a school and qualified financially for a full package.  Sometimes a kid might get X dollars in financial aid and Y dollars in merit money, so it could be a combo. Some schools do not do any merit scholarships at all.  You really need to do your homework.

So it depends.  It depends on the schools you are looking at.  It depends on how much financial aid you might qualify for.  It depends on the talents your child might bring to campus.  Schools have lost major money through the pandemic, so I can't imagine too many able to throw extra money around to attract students.  They still had to pay staff and keep the buildings running through the pandemic.  I think we're more likely to see smaller programs and small schools that have possibly been on the edge closing down.  

Getting a FULL RIDE in just merit money is very unusual.  And I assume you mean in tuition and room and board.  Even just covering tuition just in merit dollars would be unusual.  We live in a major metro and my kids are involved in a bunch of activities with bright college bound students and I follow dozens of grads every year.  I don't know any kids that have gotten a FULL SCHOLARSHIIP anywhere, from kids that go to CC to start to kids that end up to an ivy.  Even for high end privates where you might qualify for a lot of financial aid, I think you need to keep in mind they are mostly admitting wealthier kids.  

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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37 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

What do you mean by scholarships?  There are merit scholarships and financial aid rewards.  Some people say their child got a scholarship when what they really mean was they got was admission to a school and qualified financially for a full package.  Sometimes a kid might get X dollars in financial aid and Y dollars in merit money, so it could be a combo. Some schools do not do any merit scholarships at all.  You really need to do your homework.

So it depends.  It depends on the schools you are looking at.  It depends on how much financial aid you might qualify for.  It depends on the talents your child might bring to campus.  Schools have lost major money through the pandemic, so I can't imagine too many able to throw extra money around to attract students.  They still had to pay staff and keep the buildings running through the pandemic.  I think we're more likely to see smaller programs and small schools that have possibly been on the edge closing down.  

Getting a FULL RIDE in just merit money is very unusual.  And I assume you mean in tuition and room and board.  Even just covering tuition just in merit dollars would be unusual.  We live in a major metro and my kids are involved in a bunch of activities with bright college bound students and I follow dozens of grads every year.  I don't know any kids that have gotten a FULL SCHOLARSHIIP anywhere, from kids that go to CC to start to kids that end up to an ivy.  Even for high end privates where you might qualify for a lot of financial aid, I think you need to keep in mind they are mostly admitting wealthier kids.  

 They say things like, "My DD was able to graduate debt free by getting a "full ride"."  And I've never asked what exactly that means!  You have a good point.  

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People use the word “scholarships” to mean all kinds of things. I have someone in my life who has been going on and on about a scholarship and just told me it is $250.

I hear the “graduate debt free” thing a lot in reference to kids that live at home and get scholarships to cover most of tuition and are able to graduate debt free due to work earnings and parents help. Others get huge merit scholarships and can fill in with summer earnings and parental help to graduate debt free while living away from home. But usually in my world it is kids that are commuters that work this out. 

Scholarships are normally part of the picture but not the entire picture. I tell people all the time that scholarships will not do it but they can bring it into reach and leave an amount that can be covered by savings/earnings/loans/financial aid grants/work study/ etc. Most people need a combination of ways to pay the bill.

All that said my 2021 grad did get a true full ride to his desired school - our state flagship. It was shocking but it did happen. But it feels like he hit the lottery and I would not change my advice that a full ride is rare and not something to hold out hope for. His school had record high applicants to the university and over 1000 applicants to the full ride scholarship, of which they awarded 15.

His girlfriend qualified for a full financial aid package which shocked me. So ds has a full ride merit scholarship and she got merit scholarships and financial aid to cover the entire balance without loans or work study. I can’t hardly believe it. 
 

 

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A lot depends on the university.  A smaller unranked college is going to be less competitive.  My brother and I both got full ride scholarships, tuition, fees, room and board, he even got a small stipend on top of that. We had decent stats but not top notch, nothing “impressive”.  We went to an unknown smaller state school in a smaller state.  It was 20 min from home so it was perfect. Neither of us could have gotten into Harvard.  That school now does cap the tuition and fees part, essentially freezing it at the freshman year levels, so as tuition goes up yearly you have to pay the difference, so not quite as good, but darn good, especially because it’s a relatively inexpensive school to begin with.  
 

ETA:both of our scholarships were automatically given based on SAT score, every single applicant with those (not stellar!) score for a full ride, the next category was 3/4, the. 1/2, then 1/4.  It’s still set up mostly like that.  

Edited by HeartString
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45 minutes ago, TheAttachedMama said:

 They say things like, "My DD was able to graduate debt free by getting a "full ride"."  And I've never asked what exactly that means!  You have a good point.  

 

If you want to start thinking about this playing around with net price calculators from various schools of interest can be helpful.  Like here is one for Iowa State.  I just selected that at random, my brother went there  🙂  You should be able to find one for any school ...

https://www.financialaid.iastate.edu/net-price-calculator/

We spoke with a financial advisor when my oldest kid entered high school, that was helpful for planning.  Just because some number comes up as your "expected family contribution", that does NOT mean that should or will be affordable for you  or you should feel like you need to spend that much.  The whole this is broken for a lot of middle class families IMO.  

It's also possible to start much more affordably at a community college with transfer agreements.  Or if your state has dual enrollment programs, your child can start earning credits in high school.  But if you qualify for a lot of financial aid and your child is a high achiever, you may want to look closely at those NPCs for private schools.  One thing to keep in mind is if your child is a unique applicant in admissions, your odds are better.  If you are from rural middle America, you might get more attention in a coastal urban school.  If you are from an urban area, applying to some cross country rural liberal arts colleges might yield better results, etc.  

My kid is at a top 15 flagship U and they ONLY award full scholarships for financial need.  He got an extremely rare merit based half tuition scholarship making it much more affordable for us than all the privates he got into by at least 10K a year.  And he will graduate debt free.

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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31 minutes ago, HeartString said:

A lot depends on the university.  A smaller unranked college is going to be less competitive.  My brother and I both got full ride scholarships, tuition, fees, room and board, he even got a small stipend on top of that. We had decent stats but not top notch, nothing “impressive”.  We went to an unknown smaller state school in a smaller state.  It was 20 min from home so it was perfect. Neither of us could have gotten into Harvard.  That school now does cap the tuition and fees part, essentially freezing it at the freshman year levels, so as tuition goes up yearly you have to pay the difference, so not quite as good, but darn good, especially because it’s a relatively inexpensive school to begin with.  
 

ETA:both of our scholarships were automatically given based on SAT score, every single applicant with those (not stellar!) score for a full ride, the next category was 3/4, the. 1/2, then 1/4.  It’s still set up mostly like that.  

 

Whoah!  That is awesome.

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The high cost of college has been getting ridiculously higher every year.  Add the massive job losses in 2020 and it’s not surprising that fewer people are going to college.  I hope that something happens to start bringing the costs down.  Dd18 starts college this fall.  She got a full tuition scholarship (not full ride).  After that and student loans, we have still had to figure out how to come up with $10,000 per year.  Thanks to the generosity of grandparents and dd’s summer job, dh and I can cover the rest.  I don’t know how other families make it work. 

Also, working your way through college is not possible anymore.  There are literally not enough hours in a week to go to school full time and work a typical college student low wage job to cover all expenses.  
 

 

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5 minutes ago, DawnM said:

 

Whoah!  That is awesome.

I think a lot of things are possible if you’re willing to go to a university that other people snub their noses at a bit.  Or a satellite campus of a larger school.  Especially if that school is within driving distance.  

Edited by HeartString
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8 minutes ago, HeartString said:

I think a lot of things are possible if you’re willing to go to a university that other people snub their noses at a bit.  Or a satellite campus of a larger school.  Especially if that school is within driving distance.  

What do you mean, "especially if that school is within driving distance?"  You got a full ride for room and board, why would being within driving distance matter?

We do have a great deal here between our local CC and a private school locally.   I have tried to bribe my sons to do it but so far, none of them have.

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Dd was aiming at more competitive schools--all had 20% more applications than last year (dropping SAT/ACT requirements is the major part of that). I do think smaller, private colleges may need more students, but it would be interesting to see more complete statistics on which schools are down in enrollment and which got more selective this year and are full.

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7 minutes ago, DawnM said:

What do you mean, "especially if that school is within driving distance?"  You got a full ride for room and board, why would being within driving distance matter?

I did yes, but it makes it easier on a lesser scholarship if you don’t need that. 

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9 minutes ago, HeartString said:

I did yes, but it makes it easier on a lesser scholarship if you don’t need that. 

Gotcha.   Yeah, true.   Our foster son can automatically gets 80% off any NC state college.  Unfortunately, it doesn't touch fees, which are almost as much as tuition these days.

My son is planning (after next year) to attend a school where his ethnicity isn't well represented and they are trying to be more diverse, so we are hoping he gets some sort of incentive to attend.

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Just now, DawnM said:

Gotcha.   Yeah, true.   Our foster son can automatically gets 80% off any NC state college.  Unfortunately, it doesn't touch fees, which are almost as much as tuition these days.

My son is planning (after next year) to attend a school where his ethnicity isn't well represented and they are trying to be more diverse, so we are hoping he gets some sort of incentive to attend.

Fees are killer man.  It’s frustrating.  My sons favored school has the highest fees in the state.  

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My son graduated from college almost (monetary) debt free ... he was offered a "full ride" ROTC scholarship upon high school graduation. This covered tuition fully at the school he attended but would not have gone so far if he had gone to the more prestigious schools he was also accepted to, though they were also options and they offered merit aid too - just not enough.. 

After the first semester he managed additional funds from ROTC and his department to cover books and help with room and board. He worked as a tutor and in ACE hardware all through college. He graduated with both a BS (Physics) and a BA (Econ). And was then commissioned into the USAF. We did not pay for anything but flight hours (though that was $$)

Now he doesn't owe money, but he does owe the Air Force years of service (though most of his commitment is to cover his post school pilot training, not his degree). But it's the career he always wanted. 

Edited by theelfqueen
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3 hours ago, TheAttachedMama said:


According to this news article, undergraduate college enrollment is down again...another 5% from last year:

I imagine that this will have huge financial impacts on colleges across the country.

I have a friend whose children were able to get full ride scholarships to the college of their choice.  (Homeschool grads 15 years ago.). Do you think that is even possible for a student given the current state of high education?   

The biggest reason for the falling enrollment will be demographics; there simply won't be as many 18 y/olds as in previous years. There is nothing colleges will be able to do about that. It will have financial impact for the operating budget of the universities.
However, many scholarships are funded from donations and endowments by alumni for specifically this purpose. That money can't be touched for other purposes. With fewer students, there will be less competition for these funds.

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Based on what I observed, some students chose to take a gap year or a year off last year because taking online classes was not their thing. I think the numbers will be back where they were in 2019 when the dust settles. But, yes, there is an on-going downward demographic trend.

In re: full ride or full tuition scholarships

My Eldest is a National Merit Scholar and since she was willing to go where the money was, she got one "full cost of attendance" scholarship (tuition, fees, room, board, books, travel, etc. = money in the bank), one almost "full ride" (tuition, room, board, plus stipend to cover some but not all fees) scholarship, and one full tuition scholarship. She chose the almost full ride because the school was a better fit. She's a rising junior and loves her school.

My dd#2 who is not an academic superstar by any means received a full tuition scholarship. She ended up turning it down because for the first time this year, the award stipulated that awardees would have to live on campus. Adding room & board would be more expensive than just taking the partial scholarship she'd been offered based on her grades & test scores. Fees at this school (which are not covered by the full tuition scholarship) are significant compared to tuition. She was awarded a significant one-time outside scholarship for freshman year which she would not have been able to use had she accepted the full tuition scholarship due to the award's rules. I am hoping that the school will award her a scholarship next year as an upperclassmen that will at least partially replace the outside one. It is a small school.

All that to say that ful tuition and full ride scholarships are still possibilities for a small number of somebodies who are not picky where they attend. It may get increasingly rare or maybe not.. since the schools will have to woo a smaller and smaller pool of students.

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I got a full ride: tuition, room, and board to a private college.  Granted, 25 years ago.  But the week I won the scholarship, the lottery in our state was for almost the same amount as my scholarship was for four years.  

Really was like winning the lottery.  I was lucky.  

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 Mine had a couple of options that would have been a full ride-tuition, room and board, laptop, stipend, and guaranteed summer jobs, etc, but they were to schools where a) it was a big overmatch and b) specific majors and programs. 

 

The scholarship package we ended up taking was the largest total dollar value, but was also at a more pricey school, so ended up being somewhere in the middle as far as actual net price. But it's also a school whIch is a match,not an overmatch.

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1 hour ago, regentrude said:

The biggest reason for the falling enrollment will be demographics; there simply won't be as many 18 y/olds as in previous years. There is nothing colleges will be able to do about that. It will have financial impact for the operating budget of the universities.
However, many scholarships are funded from donations and endowments by alumni for specifically this purpose. That money can't be touched for other purposes. With fewer students, there will be less competition for these funds.

Yes, both of my dc receive scholarships in the spring they didn’t even apply for because professors must nominate students to receive that donor money. When added to the original merit aid, it means they will both graduate with no debt. 

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Oldest got an almost full ride merit scholarship and I was shocked!  It is rare, and has allowed her to go to a school with a lot more options.  I do not expect #2 to get such a big one, but even half of tuition would be great.  College is expensive,  and we have 4 kids graduating in 5 years, and will have 3 in college at least 2 years (assuming they go).  I have an 8 year span that will have 2 or 3 in college each year.  In preparation,  I've been trying to figure out all our options and the best options for scholarships.  We do plan to help, and my goal is to have them all graduate debt-free, but a big part of that will depend on merit aid, jobs they work, snd taking advantage of DE and the local CC.   If my kids could commute,  that might be an option, too.  

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My dd was offered a full-ride+ scholarship at a well-respected state uni near us.  It was not either of the two flagship campuses in our state, but one of the largest, well-respected branches, with an excellent department in her field of interest. Her scholarship through the university's honors college (5-6 such scholarships given each year) covered ALL expenses, PLUS enough to cover something of scholarly interest such as a semester abroad, an internship at an institution in her field, etc.  She was an excellent student but not a top tier test-taker, although she worked hard to align her SATs with her academic capability. During her second-semester of her junior year of high-school, she had enrolled in the pre-college honors academy at the university (qualified based on moderately high PSAT scores), graduating with 21 DE credit hours in her field, and that's how she had a foot in the door. She did have a full-panel scholarship interview, and apparently she won hearts and minds. :-)  After a lot of agonizing, she took the full-tuition scholarship at a LAC instead.  

Ds had a 3/4s tuition and fees scholarship; nothing for room and board.  

We're pretty average middle class people, not able to qualify for financial aid. But our experience indicates that getting full ride or high percentage merit money is not that unusual, although we may be a self-selecting group. As I read through this thread, my impression is reinforced.  

For universities with large fractional parts of their endowments restricted for student scholarships, it may be that there will be significant belt-tightening in operating costs for the institution, while the scholarship money available remains fairly stable. Endowments are generally managed to perform on a rather stable basis year over year, so that neither the amount generated nor the endowment principle suffer from much unpredictability. 

 

 

Edited by Halftime Hope
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In a general sense... the more flexible you are with where you're willing to go, the easier it is to make it cheaper or sometimes even free. The more demonstrable academic achievements you have, the easier it is to make it cheaper or even free. If you put those both together - flexibility and academic achievement - then a student will usually have some choices in a range they can pay for. I don't think that basic formula is going to change.

Lots of students end up having to take on some debt and that can be the right decision if it's a reasonable amount. But the people I see who are getting the worst end of the deal financially are focused on name brand education at any cost. Or, they are being victimized by some part of the system in some way. As in, they have a lack of access to information and trouble navigating the system and end up making poor decisions and not looking in the right places. Or, the kids have subpar educations that make it hard to do the second piece and the parents don't have enough income to pay for in state options or community college (or a community college isn't reasonably accessible) without taking on debt - sometimes to support a degree that a student isn't getting enough support to earn in a timely, inexpensive fashion.

Of course, that doesn't mean the options are always great. I mean, we don't even have a viable in state option so we're just screwed on that front right there. And I have a college bound kid who is academically decent, but not a superstar, full ride scholarship winner candidate. And he wants a certain sort of degree... that isn't offered everywhere. So I totally get that it's not easy.

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I think it is so hard to have these discussions because we are all coming from such different places and what we think is expensive vs. reasonable vs. cheap just isn’t universal. Even on this thread I think I’ve seen a few different interpretations of what “full ride” or “large scholarship” means.  For many people even the full tuition scholarship leaves too big a gap when room and board, fees, and other expenses are added up. Someone else will say their kid got full tuition so it was not that hard to pay for college. Some kids are debt free because they had very low expenses. Or commuted. Other kids are debt free because parents or grandparents helped out. It is just so subjective. But their parents tell others their kids did it debt free and it puts an expectation on that is possible or the best choice for everyone. It just isn’t always. 

I have no idea what the future holds but the 2021 grads in my circle have done really well with scholarships this year with both merit and financial aid. 
 

 

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I will say the flagship U where my son is has their largest ever incoming freshman class this semester.  I wonder if more people are taking the more affordable options?  I'd love for that bubble to burst.  I know there is a lot of talk about loan forgiveness.  And I am in favor of some.  BUT if we don't have like a free to extremely affordable path to a degree going forward for everyone, I think it's a moot gesture that will just keep coming up again over and over.  

In my son's case he was offered up to a little more than half net cost in merit at some schools on the CTCL list.  And those were their max merit awards.  You can dig around and find max awards schools might do.   His college offers swung by 50K PER YEAR.  My kid had done 2 years of CC (free) and was ready to move on.  We did not look at directional state schools due to his degree path but he certainly could have gone to one of those cheaper.  We have reciprocity with some neighboring states which gave us some other options to consider.  He's actually at the neighboring state's flagship.  I definitely think flexibility can be really helpful when looking at colleges.

And I absolutely agree that the definitions of "full ride" and "affordable" vary widely.  Everyone has to look at their own situation individually to figure out the path forward to an affordable education.  I no longer assume anything when anyone says anything about their child's college situation.  

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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21 hours ago, TheAttachedMama said:


According to this news article, undergraduate college enrollment is down again...another 5% from last year:

https://www.npr.org/2021/06/10/1005177324/spring-numbers-show-dramatic-drop-in-college-enrollment

I imagine that this will have huge financial impacts on colleges across the country.

I have a friend whose children were able to get full ride scholarships to the college of their choice.  (Homeschool grads 15 years ago.). Do you think that is even possible for a student given the current state of high education?   

Current? DS received grants and scholarships the equivalent of tuition plus enough to cover part of room and board. He graduated four years ago. DD #1 received more than him but that was 7 years ago.  DD #4 graduated this year. Tuition at her state school is just under $10k. She received about $8k in scholarships and grants? Close. Her stats were not quite what DS and DD#1’s were. 🤷🏼‍♀️ DD #3 has scholarships equivalent to tuition, but it’s not the same because it’s CC. 

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