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Lange responds to DSG report on financial aid

Two key components of undergraduate financial aid will change dramatically within the next two years, in response to the Duke Student Government Financial Aid Task Force report released in March.

Provost Peter Lange told DSG officials in a memorandum last week that the University will heed the report's recommendations to eliminate the car policy and establish a universal housing rate.

"Every year we tweak financial aid and we value in that process the kind of really thoughtful student input there was in the DSG report," Lange said.

The University will also continue to examine creating more flexible dining plans for Central Campus residents. Officials cited progress on smaller issues, but also rejected other recommendations.

Although the car policy was listed as the highest priority in the DSG report, the universal housing rate--a version of which will be instituted for the 2003-2004 academic year--will impact all undergraduates. Under the plan, housing rates will be consistent within occupancy levels--whether on East, West or Central Campus and whether air-conditioned or not. Singles will still be more expensive than doubles and triples.

"There's always been some concern that housing rates were driving housing selections," Lange said.

He acknowledged that decreasing the rate of the most expensive rooms on campus and increasing the cost of the cheapest will be controversial, as equally priced rooms will not necessarily be similar in quality.

Currently, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid uses the average room rate in its aid packages, "overshooting the mark for some students and undershooting for others," Lange wrote in the memo. About 40 percent of students receive aid.

"I'm elated that everything worked out for the best," said former financial aid task force chair Jimmy Carter, Trinity '02, who spearheaded the initiative. "It's something that students have been working on for the past 10 years and to see it happen is spectacular.... The universal housing rate and the car policy are two important issues for aided students because they directly affect their bottom line."

Eliminating the penalty for bringing a high-priced car to campus is the second change to the much-maligned policy in recent years. The financial aid office currently deducts 35 percent of the car's value from a student's aid, unless the car is worth less than $3,000 or is older than five years. Following DSG's original 2000 report, officials had already reduced the limit from seven to five years. The policy is meant to restrict students with a high level of demonstrated need from bringing a new car to campus.

"The car policy restrictions are inherently discriminatory, reinforcing the cleavages between aided and unaided students," DSG's 2002 report read, adding that nine other highly selective universities have no such policy.

Lange said the University's decision to change the long-standing policy was due in part to a fresh perspective from his "Den of 10"--a group of 10 administrators he consults on admissions and financial aid issues. He noted that strong student sentiment was another important factor.

The provost's memo recommended that the Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee, another component of DSG, look into providing Central Campus students with more workable dining options and submit a report in the upcoming year. Administrators will also continue to examine increasing work-study pay rates over the summer, and the financial aid office will unveil an improved website for viewing statements in the fall. In addition, Lange cited progress in strengthening budgetary support for financial aid, an area in which Duke has trailed its peers because of its relatively small endowment.

Lange, however, rejected the creation of a Student Affairs liaison to financial aid, a process already handled by the office of the vice provost for finance and administration, as well as the re-establishment of a spring semester job fair.