Most Colleges Plan to Maintain No-Loan Pledges

Posted by: Alison Damast on April 20, 2010

When Dartmouth College and Williams College announced plans a few months back that they’d be scaling back their “no-loan” financial aid pledges, many students and parents feared that other schools would soon follow suit. The pledges, which limit or eliminate student loans for school’s neediest students, and in some instances, for middle-and upper-income students, have become a lifeline for many families as they struggle to afford the rising tuition and fees in the midst of a rocky economy.

Fortunately, it appears that students and parents can rest easy, according to a recent survey by the Project on Student Debt, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit that raises awareness about student financial aid. For the last three years, the group has kept a list of schools that announced such financial aid pledges that would help cap student debt. Of the 52 schools surveyed, 50 responded that they plan to keep their policies to limit or eliminate loans in students aid packages and don’t “foresee any major changes” in the next two years, according to the survey. The schools on the list range from elite ivy league universities like Yale University and Harvard University to 17 public universities, including Michigan State University and the University of Arizona. The survey was conducted between December of 2009 and February of 2010.

“It’s really good news for students and families, especially when there is so much uncertainty in the economy and it can be so hard to predict what college will cost,” says Edie Irons, a spokeswoman for The Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success. “These schools have made a commitment and it is obviously important to their leadership and mission to be affordable.”

One of the schools with plans to keep its no-loan pledge in place for the next two academic years is Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine, which introduced their policy in January of 2008. Bowdoin was the first college with an endowment under $1 billion to announce that they’d be making a no-loan pledge similar to ones made by Ivy League schools, said Scott Meiklejohn, Bowdoin’s dean of admissions and financial aid. After the family and student makes their estimated family contribution — the amount a family and student are estimated to be able to contribute towards college costs, calculated usually by a federal formula – Bowdoin will cover any remaining student expenses through work study and grant aid, Meiklejohn says.

“It was a push to make the pledge, but we felt it was the right thing to do. Something like this I hope continues to portray the college as a place that has an open door,” Meiklejohn says. “Even though it has been financially difficult and it’s a different time now then when we made the announcement, we’re hanging in there.”

According to the survey, some of the schools reported they'll be making some minor changes that will impact students taking advantage of the no-loan pledges, from increasing work-study limits to raising summer work expectations. Williams and Dartmouth were the only schools that reported any major changes in their financial aid policies for academic year 2011-12, the survey showed. Dartmouth College, faced with a $100 million budget cap, decided to re-introduce loans of $2,500 to $5,500 per year for students with family incomes above $75,000 for the 2011-12 academic year. At Williams, the school plans to re-introduce loans next year at "modest levels" for students with incomes above a certain threshold, with the loan and income limits still to be determined, according to the Project on Student Debt. Previously, both schools had allowed students in these brackets to avoid loans by giving them work-study opportunities and grant aid.

To view a full list of the 52 schools with pledges to limit student loans and details on their policies, click here:

Readers, are you relieved that so many schools are keeping their no-loan policies in place? Would you consider not applying to one of the schools that changed its financial aid pledge?

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