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Group completes financial aid work

After years of planning, a new approach to determining and providing undergraduate financial aid will be implemented this fall by Duke and 28 other colleges and universities nationwide.

The approach is designed to simplify and streamline how schools determine a student's financial need, simplifying the process and possibly increasing the amount of aid for some students.

In 1994, Congress created an antitrust exemption for institutions practicing need-blind admissions to form a venue to discuss and agree upon common principles of financial aid need-analysis. However, it was not until 1999 that the 568 Presidents' Working Group, an ad hoc group of college and university presidents, was formed under the umbrella of the federal legislation.

The result, entitled the Consensus Approach to Need Analysis, developed out of a 1999 revision of the College Board's Institutional Methodology, a set of principles and methods used in determining a family's eligibility for aid not covered in federal rules.

A subcommittee presented their findings to the working group, chaired by Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings.

The group, which included President Nan Keohane, agreed soon after to adopt the methodology.

"The need for further education beyond high school has never been more important," Rawlings said. "Increasingly, however, there is evidence that students and their parents are confused by the substantial disparities in the reports they receive from financial aid experts at different campuses. We need to restore confidence in the process of determining family contributions."

Jim Belvin, Duke's director of financial aid, agreed with Rawlings that parents are losing confidence in the financial aid program and that the new standards would help them make easier decisions about college.

"One school would say that, based on their findings, an applicant's parents could pay $5,000 while another would say they could pay $8,000," he said.

Belvin added that the trend in students qualifying for financial aid--up slightly to 43 percent from 41 in 2000--will continue through the current economic downturn. In the Class of 2007, Belvin said that on average, students will qualify for increased amounts of financial aid.

The principles endorsed by the group include protection for moderate-income families whose homes have increased in value, consideration of the financial status of two parents or step-parents rather than three or four for the children of divorced or separated parents, allowances for parents not covered in retirement programs and contributions from tax-advantaged college savings accounts.

To account for changes in the future, including fluctuations in family income, the group also agreed on a common calendar for data collection, methods for training financial aid professionals and the establishment of an oversight group to review the policies over time.

Other schools represented in the 568 Presidents' Working Group include some of the nation's most prestigious institutions, such as Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and Yale University.

Belvin said the group is working on developing a financial aid process for future international students, but added that current international students as well as students already on financial aid will not be affected by the policy that will be established this fall.

"This new methodology... is designed to make higher education more accessible. Our goal is to reduce confusion among applicant families while, on average, reducing parent contributions," said Provost Peter Lange. "At Duke, we believe that this new approach offers additional financial support to families with need, while underlining the University's commitment to accessibility."


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