New aid to students a good start

By Editorial Board

On Jan. 14, President Warrick L. Carter sent out a memo to the Columbia community regarding the 2009-10 budget, providing an excellent start to help Columbia and its students in such odd financial times.

Tuition this fall is set to increase 3 percent, as opposed to last year’s 4.95 percent increase, according to the memo. Also, the school aims to increase scholarship funding by 50 percent, using initiatives such as matching extra donations by alumni. The college has also frozen the salaries of those at and above the vice presidential level. The goal is to increase the percentage of students obtaining financial assistance from this past year’s 14 percent to 20 percent by the 2009 fall semester.

These initiatives aim to relieve some of the burden from the mounting financial pressures facing Columbia students and their families. These cutbacks and goals for bringing in new funds are a step in the right direction, as even more students have been inquiring about them since the onset of the economic downturn.

Frustration with Columbia’s weakness in terms of aid and scholarships has long been existent, and more opportunities in this area will help boost Columbia’s image as an affordable private arts institution.

On the surface, Columbia looks like an affordable college. But comparing Columbia’s tuition costs to other colleges can be confusing. The annual tuition for Columbia will soon hit more than $18,000, which is still under the 2008-09 national average of $25,143 for four-year private institutions, according to The College Board, a not-for-profit association.

But on average, these students across the country end up with $10,200 in grants, according to The College Board, while Columbia students only received about $1,500 in grants on average in 2006-07 (the latest data available), according to numbers in the Columbia Fact Book put together by the Research, Evaluation and Planning Department. Columbia also lacks in the scholarship department, where students receive about $700 annually on average from both internal and external scholarships, according to numbers from the Fact Book.

Along with increasing funds, Columbia needs to support clear communication about financing. In the past, Carter has said there are 750 scholarships available to students, but it’s unclear what that meant. It could be interpreted to mean there are 750 kinds of scholarship opportunities, when it actually means Columbia offers scholarship opportunities for 750 students.

Many students don’t know where to look when it comes to applying for scholarships. Some go to the Student Financial Services office only to be turned away without any reference to where they should go. Some students go to Columbia’s website and click the scholarships link, which has 68 kinds of scholarships for undergraduates, only to spend hours figuring out they only qualify for three or four on the lists. And then when students finally apply, many don’t know how to put together a sound application.

Maybe some incoming students are given proper instructions, but for returning students, it seems there is nowhere to go for help.

Scholarship funding is of great importance, but the next order on Columbia’s agenda should be to improve accessibility for these funds and to simplify the process in acquiring them.

In these tough times, students appreciate everything Columbia’s administration is doing to help and each new improvement made to the system. With that said, students also look forward to more help to come.