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Institute To Match Pell Grant Funds Next Year...s Tuition Up 4 Percent to Top $33K

By Marissa Vogt

MIT is announcing today a program to match the amount of federal Pell grant funds for eligible students, effectively reducing the self-help portion of financial aid awards for the neediest students.

The announcement comes in the wake of Friday’s press release that tuition and fees will increase by 4 percent to $33,600 for the 2006–2007 academic year.

President Susan Hockfield said that the Pell Matching Grants program makes an important statement by targeting the students with the greatest financial need. Roughly 15 percent of MIT students receive Pell grants, which are typically awarded by the federal government to students whose family incomes are less than $40,000 per year, Hockfield said. Seventy-two percent of undergraduates at MIT receive need-based financial aid.

Pell grants are entitlement grants, meaning that students can take the award with them to whichever institution they attend, though the grants carry varying monetary value depending on the cost of the school.

By pledging to match Pell grants with MIT funds, the Institute is also making a political statement regarding recent budget cuts affecting the number of Pell grant recipients. The maximum Pell grant amount, $4,050, has been frozen since 2001, Hockfield said.

Vice President for Institute Affairs Kirk D. Kolenbrander said that the program emphasizes “our recognition of the role that the Pell grants play.”

The Pell Matching Grants program will cost MIT about $1.5 million, and will be funded by the same sources as other MIT scholarships and grants, said Elizabeth M. Hicks, executive director of Student Financial Services. The program trades a portion of the $5,500 self-help award for an MIT grant in the amount of the Pell grant. Self-help is the amount students who receive financial aid are expected to contribute through loans, work, or outside scholarships during the academic year.

For the 2004–2005 academic year, MIT’s contribution to student financial aid, including grants, loans, and work study, totaled $55.3 million. This money comes from restricted sources, such as endowed funds provided by alumni and friends of MIT, and general Institute funds.

Hicks said that though there are over 1,000 endowed funds that provide money for financial aid, it is not enough to cover the total cost to MIT. Budgetary constraints on general Institute funds limit the amount of money that MIT can spend on financial aid. Hockfield said that increasing the amount of endowed funds is her “highest priority in fundraising.” Endowed funds provide approximately two thirds of MIT’s contribution to financial aid, Hockfield said.

Matching the full Pell grant amount sends a message to students that they should “start imagining the possibilities of coming to places like this,” without limiting their options, said Hicks. The target group is students who have previously demonstrated more concern about debt and have more difficulty finding community-based scholarships to help cover the self-help amount, she said.

In recent years, Harvard and Yale have pledged to not ask for family contribution from families earning less than $40,000 and $45,000 per year, respectively. Though MIT has no plans to adopt such a program, by targeting Pell grants recipients and considering the impact on the student’s contribution, the Institute is now in a “unique situation,” Hicks said.

Past studies listed cost or financial aid as one of the top three reasons why students chose to attend another university, though financial concerns are now less of a reason, Hicks said.

Housing costs increase 6.7 percent

Tuition and fees will rise 4 percent next year from $32,300 to $33,600, said Hockfield. Estimated housing costs will rise 6.7 percent to $5,600. The total cost of attending MIT for the 2006–2007 academic year will be $46,350, a 3.9 percent increase from the current year. In addition to tuition and housing, the total cost includes $4,350 for meals and $2,800 for books and personal expenses.

The self-help portion of the financial aid package for students not receiving Pell grants will remain at $5,500, despite a December proposal by then-Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine to lower the amount to $4,500. That proposal would have cost MIT $2.3 million, compared to the $1.5 million cost of the Pell Matching Grant plan.

Redwine called the Pell Matching Grant program “clever” and said that though it targets lower-income students, his proposal and the Pell Grant program do not target vastly different populations.