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Letter: Price restates Duke commitment to financial aid

To the Editor,

I want to respond to some recent concerns that have been expressed about the future of the university’s commitment to financial aid with a simple statement: there will be no changes to the financial aid pledges made by Duke University to current undergraduates during your time as Duke students—not to health insurance, not to support for summer programs, not to any of the components that make a Duke education possible for those who could never have considered it so.

Nor will Duke diminish our commitment to ensuring that all who come to our university have the opportunity to participate in all aspects of university life, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Duke has historically been, and will continue to be, one of a small number of universities that admit students regardless of their ability to pay and subsequently meet every student’s full demonstrated need for their entire course of study, from orientation through graduation.

As the cost of providing our unique, intense and immersive educational experience continues to increase each year, so do the financial resources necessary to ensure that every student coming to Duke can have that experience. This year, Duke will invest more than $180 million in the many forms of financial assistance for undergraduate students—need-based financial aid, selective scholarships like the A.B. Duke, B.N. Duke and Reginaldo Howard Scholars, athletic scholarships, first-generation programs like the Rubenstein Scholars, and other programs—that make Duke to as accessible and affordable as possible.

That financial aid investment has increased by 95 percent over the past decade, very significantly outpacing the increase in tuition, which has risen by only 43 percent over that same period. Today, 51 percent of all Duke undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance from the university. Accordingly, fundraising for financial aid remains one of our highest institutional priorities.

Duke’s access and affordability efforts are comparable to, and in a variety of ways already exceed, peer institutions with significantly larger endowments. However, we do not have unlimited financial resources; and for that reason, we have to be prudent and creative in allocating the funds available for financial aid.

Over the past year, we have been analyzing a wide range of approaches to this challenge: how to ensure that the university’s funds can be allocated to the largest number of students, over the longest period of time, while also being able to invest in the faculty, facilities and programs that make us Duke. With every potential adjustment to our aid program, we strive to be fair and equitable, to sustain an environment in which every student has the opportunity to not only succeed, but to thrive. That doesn’t mean that every idea is perfect, desirable or even feasible; but to be the best possible stewards of our resources, we must continually evaluate our practices to ensure the greatest possible collective benefits.

Unfortunately, some of the ideas being examined are portrayed as having been decided, when in fact they should be considered aspects of ongoing review and evaluation. This can only add to the understandable anxieties of students and families depending on our financial support.

And in some cases, as in proposed changes in health insurance which will now not be implemented as previously reported, our own recent communications have been partial and incomplete. For this I apologize, particularly to any families who may have made decisions to change their family health coverage. Those families will be reimbursed by Duke for any costs they incurred in making this change, and I deeply regret any distress they experienced.

The broader challenge to university finances has not gone away. The growing gap between the demand for financial assistance and our resources—which is itself a product of our firm commitments to access and affordability—must be addressed vigorously, directly, honestly and compassionately. Be assured that Duke will not diminish our commitment to ensuring that all who come to Duke have the opportunity to enjoy the many fulsome benefits of university life, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

That is, truly, what makes Duke Duke.

Vincent E. Price, President


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