Tuition increase sends students in search of financial aid

The number of students applying for financial aid has increased yearly.

With the 5.8 percent tuition increase soon to take effect in the 2011-12 academic year, more MU students have started the process of applying for financial aid earlier.

Jim Brooks, Office of Student Financial Aid director, said the office has noticed an increase in student inquiries leading up to the extended Feb. 3 deadline to apply for non-automatic scholarships.

“We’ve already gotten lots of questions via e-mail or phone calls,” Brooks said. “Usually we’re getting those on the last day, and we were getting them two to three weeks ago.”

Although the office has seen an increased number of inquiries, FAFSA forms are not due until March 1. Brooks said MU distributes between $37.5 and $38 million in aid to students from its general funds account, which includes both scholarships and need-based aid. In addition to this figure, MU awards funds from departmental, endowed and private accounts.

Despite tuition having been frozen since 2008, the number of students applying for financial aid has increased yearly.

“Applications have increased for the past two years, which is probably more due to the effects of the economy, with families being out of work and parents losing income and jobs and looking for other ways to help pay for college,” Brooks said.

The Office for Financial Success also offers resources to students looking for additional advice.

“If somebody contacts us, we’ll sit down with them and go through a budget,” Director Ryan Law said. “We look at their options to be able to pay tuition, including available federal student loans. We try to steer away from private loans if possible.”

Officials believe it will be difficult to predict whether the tuition hike will lead to a drop in enrollment.

“We know for a fact there are fewer Missouri high school graduates this year, so we are expecting a smaller freshman class than we had last year,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said. “Is that due to less students in Missouri, or is that due to the economy? We’re not going to be able to pinpoint it.”

As a state school, MU is still less expensive than many private institutions.

“Enrollment tends to go up during tough economic times,” Law said. “I’d be surprised if we saw a lower number of students enrolling.”

In addition to resources at MU, in-state students can seek financial assistance through the Missouri Department of Higher Education. MDHE spokeswoman Kathy Love said students could seek funding from Access Missouri, the largest need-based student financial aid program in the state. The state also runs the Bright Flight Program, which provides students in the top five percent of state ACT scores with scholarship money.

At this point, the Office of Financial Aid has not changed its approach in the face of a potential influx of applications.

“We will use whatever resources we have the best we can to help students attend MU,” Brooks said. “We’ll do what we always do, which is put together the best financial aid package for students.”

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