Making Northwestern Affordable
It is a daunting number. Northwestern’s tuition, fees, room and board will total an estimated $41,662 in 2005–06. Add in travel, books and other personal expenses, and the total can surpass $44,000.
“We understand Northwestern is expensive. What we want to do is make it possible to come to Northwestern,” says Carolyn Lindley (GSESP80), the University’s director of financial aid. “We know we’re not making it easy, but we’re making it possible.”
Northwestern employs a policy of need-blind admission for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. If a student is admitted, the University pledges to meet full financial need after family and student contributions.
“But what we think students need and what they think they need can be two different things,” Lindley says. “We know that for some families it really does come down to money. Some schools offer merit-based aid. … I think it is really important that we have need-based financial aid because when you’re dealing with the quality of students that we have, it would be very difficult to say who is more meritorious than others.”
Just over 45 percent of students receive aid from Northwestern sources, including the Northwestern Scholarship, a need-based grant program supported with assistance from the University by gifts, endowed scholarships and tuition revenue. The Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid administers more than $112 million annually to undergraduates, and as tuition continues to rise, the University continues its commitment to increase its overall grant allocation at an equal percentage.
Sixty percent of Northwestern students receive some sort of financial aid, whether it’s loans, scholarships or work-study funds. For 2004–05, the average debt upon graduation for Northwestern students who received financial aid was $16,000 to $18,000.
“I believe the degree is worth it,” says Benjamin LeMoine, a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences senior from Urbana, Ill., who hopes his Northwestern degree expands his options for medical school.
LeMoine’s father, a former pro basketball player in Europe, coached in the Middle East until the war erupted in Iraq. Now he works at local basketball camps in Urbana and as a substitute teacher. LeMoine’s mother coaches gymnastics at the YMCA and works as a house cleaner. Without financial aid, LeMoine says, there is no way his family could afford Northwestern.
Kathy Zheng (WCAS05) says she graduated with more debt than most Northwestern undergraduates on financial aid because she had to take out personal loans to cover portions of the family contribution.
She worries about a time when middle-class families will not be able to afford a Northwestern education but says the University works hard to help students and their families.
Lindley points to the University’s graduation rate (92 percent of students graduate in five years) and retention rate (98 percent of the students in the class of 2007 returned for their sophomore year) to show that the University is maintaining its commitment to making a Northwestern education possible.
“Financial aid is critically important,” says Rebecca Dixon, former associate provost for university enrollment. “Being able to say that we meet full need and we’ll make admission decisions regardless of whether a student is applying for financial aid is a powerful set of statements to make. Yet, for the upper middle-income family, who will qualify for little or no financial aid, this is a big slug of money. I just worry about that a lot. The ratchet has gone up so high, and we’re in good company, but how can it go down?”
Lindley agrees that there are challenges ahead. Still she remains optimistic. “We’re at a place where the people in central administration are already thinking about working with admission and financial aid to maintain a student body from a variety of backgrounds.” — S.H.