In light of the nation’s current economic crisis, the University is reevaluating its expenditures and beginning a new fundraising campaign that will significantly contribute to the maintenance of scholarships and financial aid as part of President Michael Roth’s seven initiatives. Progress towards this part of the initiative was initially taken during Roth’s inaugural year as president, as loans were replaced by grants for families earning less than $40,000 a year. The University also partnered with QuestBridge, a non-profit program which links motivated low-income students with the country’s top universities.
“We are trying to understand how we can best use our financial aid money,” Roth said.
Director of Financial Aid Jennifer Lawton reports that about 1,200 students are currently on some form of need-based aid.
“We’re trying to get information about the current [economic] situation,” Lawton said. “We want to make sure we are [using financial aid money] in the best way possible.”
Lawton explained that her office is working within its resources to help families during this economic crisis, including considering job loss and home equity when determining financial aid packages. She also notes that the University’s financial aid budget—despite the crisis—is currently on budget.
“We’ve been pretty lucky in the financial aid budget, running surpluses for the last three years,” she said.
The University has hired consultants to look over spending, who will then issue a report in the next few months detailing how the University can most effectively use its money.
“We’re looking at all expenditures outside of core academic areas and if they are necessary,” Roth said. “We are planning for the difficulties of fundraising and loss of endowment.”
A new fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $550 to $650 million is already underway. The campaign is currently in its “quiet stage,” during which planning and donations from past donors are sought. The campaign will go “public” when at least half of the funds have been raised. Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson estimates this will occur in 2011.
Currently, $74 million have been raised in the campaign, $14 million of which will go towards financial aid. Wilson stated that at least $200 million of the final campaign total will go towards financial aid.
She also explained that the University has two types of scholarships: endowed scholarships, which are supported by donors, and scholarships supported by the Wesleyan Annual Fund. The University is currently in the process of trying to endow the entire financial aid program.
“We are trying to create permanent endowed scholarships,” Wilson said. “That will take us many, many, many years.”
The University currently has around 400 endowed scholarships. To cover every student with financial needs, a total of around 1,300 endowed scholarships would be needed.
“To [completely] endow financial aid now we’d need to raise $600 to 700 million,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to endow as much of that as we can every time we do a campaign.”
The last campaign, the Wesleyan Campaign, which lasted from 1995 to 2004, raised $281 million. From that, $80 million was allotted to financial aid.
“A significant part of the Wesleyan fund is for financial aid,” Roth said. “In a year like this, fundraising is very hard.”
Wilson explains that for many young alumni, financial aid is a priority when donating to the University.
“With young donors, financial aid is the most compelling argument,” Wilson said. “It seems to be the most attractive to people.”
Roth remains committed to need-blind admissions and reaffirms that recruiting a talented group of students in each incoming class is a top priority for the University. By partnering with QuestBridge, the University hopes to reach additional students who may have otherwise not considered a school such as Wesleyan.
“It [QuestBridge] gives us additional resources to target students of need,” Roth said.
According to Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Meislahn, the University has received over 125 applications from QuestBridge finalists who will be entering the class of 2013. She said that these applications are currently being reviewed, and that applicants will be notified of their admission in early December.
“Our hope is to match with ten QuestBridge students by the time the process is over,” Meislahn said.
She expects that these admitted students would qualify for those grants set aside for families earning less than $40,000 yearly.
Lawton reports that approximately 40 families in the class of 2012 were affected by Roth’s grant policy for families earning less than $40,000 yearly. When the policy is fully implemented over the course of four class years (beginning with 2012), the University hopes to have around 160 families covered by grants instead of loans.
But as the first half of this academic year winds down, Lawton remains realistic.
“It’s going to be a challenging year, but we’ll do our best to listen to people.”