OUSF moves up notification timeline for prospective merit scholars in light of recent FAFSA delays

The new timeline does not address current merit scholar concerns about requiring students to commit to Duke before knowing whether they received financial aid, as scholarship recipients will not be notified of the award until mid-June.

The Office of University Scholars and Fellows moved up the notification date for merit scholarship finalists from early May to April 29, according to a Thursday email to current merit scholars.

The decision was made “in response to the continued delays in receiving and processing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms,” per the email.

“We hope this earlier notification date will alleviate stress from families who are still awaiting confirmation of their financial aid packages,” the Merit Scholarship Program (MSP) Team wrote.

The announcement comes after OUSF received backlash from current merit scholars for moving to a “post-matriculation” model of selection in January, meaning that recipients would not be aware of their scholarship status until after the University finalized enrollment for the Class of 2028.

The original decision to push the notification timeline back was made to "help [the University] reach [its] goal of enrolling more Pell-eligible students," Jenny Wood Crowley, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education, wrote in a Thursday email to The Chronicle.

"This post-matriculation model enables us to review complete financial aid information from families, which supports equity and transparency in the review process," she wrote.

Duke was the subject of controversy in September after the New York Times published an article claiming the University fell behind peer institutions in terms of socioeconomic diversity. President Vincent Price responded to the allegations in a Sept. 10 statement, saying "we know we have work to do in this area" but maintaining that the article painted Duke "in a rather harsh light."

He added that the number of students who are Pell Grant-eligible at Duke has "grown quite significantly this year, to approximately 17% of our entering class."

Merit scholarship finalists will receive notification of their status at 8 p.m. April 29, after which they will interview with scholarship selection committees. Merit scholarships will be awarded “no later than mid June,” according to the OUSF website.

The MSP Team added that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is extending the deadline to commit to Duke from May 1 to May 15 for those who request an extension. 

The OUSF did not immediately respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment on the fact that the new timeline does not inform students of whether they will be awarded merit scholarship aid before the enrollment deadline — only whether they are finalists under consideration.

Representatives from the OUSF Student Advisory Committee — current merit scholars who support recruitment, outreach and programming — will receive the list of finalists April 30. Families will be notified of the change during Blue Devil Days, which are taking place on campus this weekend.

Scholarships at Duke

Duke offers seven merit scholarships, each geared toward a unique demographic of prospective students. Examples of requisite factors include being a child or grandchild of a Duke alumnus, residing in North or South Carolina or being a first-generation college student.

University merit scholarships cover the full cost of tuition, in addition to room, board and mandatory fees for incoming first-years. Eligibility is based entirely on a student’s application to Duke.

Duke also offers leadership scholarships through the Robertson Scholars Program and the Nakayama Public Service Scholars Program.

The University’s merit scholarship for “top applicants of African descent,” the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholars Program, was recently discontinued in light of the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision that ended race-based affirmative action in college admissions. OUSF is partnering with the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture to establish the Reginaldo Howard Leadership Program in its stead.

FAFSA controversy

FAFSA has been under fire in recent months for a series of blunders that have made it difficult for families and admissions offices alike to manage financial aid application and allocation.

The form initially suffered from serious delays, released Dec. 30 instead of its usual Oct. 1 and even then only on a rolling basis, in what the Department of Education (ED) called a “soft launch.” The lag was a result of efforts to streamline the application, as mandated by Congress in the 2019 FAFSA Simplification Act.

However, the resulting timeline was criticized for giving families less time to fill out the form and making it difficult for university admissions offices to review students’ financials and determine their expected contribution.

Reports that the form was erroneously calculating students’ financial aid eligibility came to light in December. In the 2019 act, Congress raised the amount of a family’s income that is protected from being considered in financial aid determinations by 20% for parents, 35% for dependent students and 60% for students with children of their own.

Congress also stipulated that these numbers should be adjusted for inflation annually, but the ED originally failed to make this adjustment.

The ED addressed the formula error in a Jan. 30 statement, announcing that they had updated the tables used in the Student Aid Index (SAI) calculation — which replaced the Expected Family Contribution formula — to account for inflation. The change provided students with an additional $1.8 billion in aid.

Another mistake was uncovered in March, this time relating to dependent students’ contribution. Prior to March 21, the FAFSA Processing System only considered students’ adjusted net worth when calculating their SAI, excluding their current net worth. As a result, total Student Contribution from Assets was calculated inaccurately, resulting in a lower overall SAI.

The ED released a statement March 22 acknowledging the error and outlining next steps to assist schools in determining which forms are affected, which include returning affected forms to the ED for reprocessing.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Thursday evening with a statement from Jenny Wood Crowley and information about the recent controversy regarding the socioeconomic makeup of Duke's student body.

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity sophomore and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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