Emergency Aid Fund Helps Students Weather Economic Uncertainty
In fall 2008, with the recession well under way and with the number of student appeals for financial aid increasing sharply, the University of Denver embarked on a cost-cutting and staff-reduction initiative designed to preserve funds for priority measures.
One of those priorities was financial assistance for students. Determined that no enrolled student should forego or postpone a DU education because of financial concerns, the University channeled $2 million into its emergency aid pool for undergraduate students. (In a typical year, the University budgets between $100,000 and $200,000 to help undergraduate students whose families contend with extenuating circumstances.)
Of that $2 million, $1.2 million was directed toward institutional grant aid, reflecting an average $3,000 increase in undergraduate aid awards among those who requested it and whose families could document need.
“The last thing we wanted to do was have students have to leave because of financial circumstances,” said Julia Benz, who served as assistant vice chancellor for scholarships and financial aid throughout the academic year. “We wanted to be sure they could persist, regardless of financial issues, and we were pretty successful at that.”
The University also allocated $2 million in emergency financial aid for graduate students. However, DU awarded just $100,000 of that, largely because fewer graduate students demonstrated additional need. Because only a small percentage of them depend on their families for financial support, many graduate students already had adequate aid packages to fund their study.
To ensure fairness, awards were calculated according to a formula based on actual income. If graduate students’ contribution to their education started with zero, the University was already completely funding them, which meant there was no additional documented need.
In spring 2010, with the economy beginning to mend, the financial aid office began seeing a decrease in requests for help. As a result, the emergency financial aid budget for the next academic year is expected to drop to $400,000.
“From the 2008 to 2009 tax years, the increased need per student was really significant over the total population. You don’t see fluctuations that large. It’s gotten a lot better. Appeals have gone way down and things are nicely recovering,” Benz said.