A group of 28 top private colleges and universities announced Friday they will follow new guidelines to boost financial aid for needy students.
But similar changes won't be on their way at Kansas University, mainly because there are more restrictions on how public universities can distribute their aid.
The 28 schools involved in the new plan including Yale, Stanford and Cornell practice need-blind admissions, meaning students are admitted regardless of ability to afford tuition. What families can't pay themselves is made up in loans and grants.
The new principles are being adopted at a time when states and colleges are increasingly directing aid toward merit-based scholarships, which are tied to student performance instead of family resources.
"It was getting harder for the neediest students to feel that their needs could be met," Cornell President Hunter Rawlings said. "There's been an erosion, over the past five years, especially a move toward more merit aid. This is an effort to assist the neediest families and to create a more consistent set of policies across universities."
The guidelines direct schools to consider the cost of living for students in more expensive cities; reduce the amount families are expected to contribute to students' tuition; deal more reasonably and consistently with the financial resources of students whose parents are divorced or separated; and make allowances for parents lacking retirement accounts.
Chris Johnson, KU's associate director of financial aid, said the changes should have little effect at KU. He applauded the new plan, saying it would simplify the financial aid process for students.
"Basically what they're doing is coming up with a standardized formula to help families make better decisions," Johnson said. "I am all for anything that schools can do to increase gift aid for the neediest students because these students tend to be student-loan borrowers. If they do graduate, they graduate with a lot of debt."
Johnson said all universities must follow federal guidelines for distributing federal aid, which is based on income and savings. What private universities do with privately donated scholarships and aid, he said, is up to them.
The 28 universities will continue using federal forms for government aid. But under the new plan, they will have a standardized form, and the selection criteria will include information such as the value of their homes and how many children are in the family.
"'Need' can mean many things," Johnson said. "It's a real emotional catchword. ... There's always a struggle between trying to attract the best and make school accessible for the neediest."