University to increase financial aid

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  • Marquette allocated $65 million toward student financial aid in the fiscal year 2010 budget, a $4 million increase.
  • The competition for next school year's estimated $144 billion in national student financial aid is beginning to heat up across the country, with a significant increase in FAFSA applications being filed.
  • The stimulus bill signed by President Obama last week will increase funding for several types of student financial aid.

Facing a tanking economy and a potentially fierce fight for financial aid, Marquette will increase its assistance to students next year.

The race for federal aid that began on Jan. 1, the first day the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be filed, is starting to heat up across the country as deadlines approach over the next few weeks. Marquette's priority deadline is March 1.

The estimated federal, state and institutional aid nationwide for the next academic year totals $144 billion, said Mary Fallon, senior director of communications at Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., a private firm that helps families fill out aid forms.

As of Feb. 15, the U.S. Department of Education had seen a 20 percent increase in FAFSA applications compared with last year, according to a Feb. 21 article in the New York Times.

All this makes for an intense competition for financial aid, Fallon said.

Marquette will allocate an additional $4 million in its fiscal year 2010 budget for student financial aid, according to a letter sent by University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild to Marquette students and families in late January.

With the increase, the university has budgeted $65 million for student financial aid for the next school year, said Susan Teerink, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid.

Marquette's aid draws from operating revenues, gifts, grants and endowment spending, said Tim Olsen, communication manager in the Office of Marketing & Communication, in an e-mail. Increases in revenue or decreases in operating expenses allow the university to increase aid.

Teerink said 85 percent of all full-time undergraduates at Marquette receive some type of aid, whether it's a scholarship, grant, loan or employment through the Federal Work-Study Program.

In the 2007-'08 school year, the Office of Student Financial Aid processed $206 million in student financial aid from all federal, state and institutional sources, Teerink said in an e-mail. That included $109 million in loans, $94 million in grants, scholarships and fellowships, and $3 million in work-study benefits.

More help from the federal and state governments could be on the way for students. The stimulus bill signed by President Obama last week will increase the Federal Pell Grant from $4,731 to $5,350 next school year, Fallon said in an e-mail. That figure will rise to $5,550 in the 2010-'11 academic year.

The stimulus package will also increase funding for the Federal Work-Study Program and raise the tuition tax credit for families earning less than $180,000 per year, Fallon said.

On the state level, Gov. Jim Doyle suggested increasing the Wisconsin Tuition Grant in his recent budget proposal, Teerink said.

"Even a small increase (in aid) is a win right now," Teerink said.

Despite the efforts by Marquette and the government to bolster financial aid, some families are still worried about paying for a college education, Teerink said. She has not received a lot of worried calls, but she has heard from some families experiencing job loss or feelings of insecurity as they watch their retirement funds shrink.

The first step toward receiving need-based aid is filing the 137-question FAFSA, Teerink said.

Basically, the FAFSA is used to determine financial need by subtracting a student's family resources from the cost of attending Marquette, Teerink said.

"Through the available resources, we try to help students meet that financial need," Teerink said. "We put together the best aid package from the available funds."

Corrine Fournier, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, received some aid through the FAFSA the past two years. She said the program provides valuable assistance, but she has issues with how it deciphers a student's need.

Fournier is paying for her Marquette education herself, but she is not considered an independent by the FAFSA because she does not have a child, is not married and was not raised in a homeless shelter, she said.

"What FAFSA contributes to my education is based on what they think my family can contribute, when, in fact, they are not able to contribute anything," Fournier said. "I do not feel I was given a satisfactory amount of aid, but I am happy to get anything at all."

Although students should file the FAFSA as soon as possible, students and their families can amend the application later, Fallon said. The window for applying for next school year is open until June 30, 2010. If conditions change, such as a parent being laid off, a student can modify the form later and receive more aid.

Likewise, the deadline for the next school year's FAFSA is June 30, 2009.

Many funds, like federal or state grants, come from a limited pool of money. These resources are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, Teerink said.

If students apply later and aid is not available, the best option is a student loan, Teerink said.

Marquette participates in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Student Loan Program. The advantage of this program, as opposed to the Federal Family Education Loan Program, is that students receive loans directly from the federal government and do not go through a middle party, Teerink said.

Some banks — the middlemen in the FFELP — have dropped out of the program because of the current credit crunch. Meanwhile, Teerink said, Marquette students continue to have access to student loans.

The last resort for students is private or alternative loans, Teerink said. These are more costly and do not have the option to defer payment.

Fournier said she is concerned about the difficulty of attaining a loan during the current recession.

"I feel that paying for college is much harder now than it was even six months ago," Fournier said.

"This definitely worries me when it comes to paying for school because if I am unable to obtain a loan I'm basically out of options."