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Wisconsin zero pay

February 2012

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Student need rises sharply

A striking increase in need-based financial aid among Wisconsin college students has caught the attention of Washington Post higher education reporter Daniel de Visé. A recent post on his College Inc. blog uses state statistics to illustrate a national trend of expanding need.

For a growing number of Wisconsin families, de Visé reports, the gap between income and cost is so vast that the federal government expects them to make no financial contribution toward a child’s higher education. During the 2008-09 academic year, he writes, there were 42,641 such “zero-pay” students in Wisconsin; in 2009-10, the number increased to 65,800.

De Visé got his data from Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU). As an organization of the state’s 20 private accredited baccalaureate and graduate institutions, WAICU helps promote access to affordable private, post-secondary education.

Since federal Pell grants offer the neediest students only $5,550 per year, it falls to college and university financial aid departments to make up the difference. St. Norbert’s Jeff Zahn (Financial Aid) knows that trend well. The college administered nearly $51 million dollars in financial aid during the 2010-11 academic year, and that includes merit- and need-based scholarships and grants from both institutional and other sources. (The number of students receiving aid grew 5 percent in the same period.)

“If you can qualify for admission, we’re going to do everything possible to make the finances work out,” Zahn says.

That’s a distinction between private, non-profit colleges like St. Norbert and the for-profit colleges proliferating across the country. Federal data suggest that the latter admit students – and accept the federal aid they bring with them – with little regard for their ability to graduate or make loan payments.

For example, figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the eight for-profit colleges receiving the most G.I. Bill benefits show four-year graduation rates as low as 32 percent. That compares to 63.5 percent at St. Norbert. In addition, 22.3 percent of third-year students at for-profit colleges default on their loans vs. only 6.8 percent of those at private, non-profit colleges like St. Norbert, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education.

What’s more, a U.S. Senate committee analysis of data from the country’s 15 publicly traded for-profit institutions of higher education shows that 85.6 percent of the institutions’ revenues come from federal aid dollars.

Feb. 7, 2012

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