"Lawrence University embarked on an ambitious plan in 2014 to join the exclusive ranks of so-called full-need colleges -- those that provide financial aid to cover all tuition and fees for admitted students with 'demonstrated financial need,'" according to Inside Higher Ed.
"Entering a space occupied by Ivy League and other elite colleges with hefty endowments and socially conscious bona fides was a bold move for the small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Only 65 universities nationwide are designated full-need institutions. But Lawrence president Mark Burstein was undaunted; he knew the need among some of the 1,500 students.
He launched an effort to raise $85 million in endowed scholarship funds in five years -- the amount the university estimated it would need to make the commitment. The 'Full Speed to Full Need' campaign was an instant hit, widely embraced by students and alumni -- and an anonymous donor who initially gave $25 million and later kicked in another $5 million for good measure.
The university raised $74.3 million in four years. The support has already been used for additional scholarships or grants to 182 students, 138 of them currently on campus. Officials believe they have enough momentum to meet the goal by next year.
The collective financial status of Lawrence students has changed dramatically as a result. During the 2014-15 academic year, 74 percent of the students on financial aid had an average funding gap of $6,000 in their awards, which included all federal grants and loans for which they were eligible, as well as financial support from the university. The gap meant students had to find the money elsewhere. This academic year, 48 percent of the students have a funding gap, and the average dropped to $4,200, according to Burstein.
'We're really trying to help every student on this campus and especially the families that have the largest gap,' he said. 'This resonated with the Lawrence community and our values. We've been historically a place where students of need come for a transformative educational experience.'
The path to full need was not a direct one for Burstein, however. A student inadvertently but fundamentally redirected his thinking about financial aid.
The mental shift occurred during the launch of 'open office,' one of many student outreach events on the main campus in Appleton, Wis., when individual students visit with Burstein to tell him what's on their minds.
One student, a sophomore, laid it all out.
'He said, 'I love it here,'' Burstein recalled. ''I have a B-plus average. I'm working close to 40 hours a week. I already owe $30,000 in student loans. My mom works in retail and my dad is being evicted from his apartment. What should I do?''
Burstein suggested the young man transfer to a state college in the student's hometown, which would likely be less expensive than Lawrence, where annual tuition and fees at the time totaled nearly $50,000. (Tuition and fees for the 2018-19 academic year will be $57,816. Tuition has increased about 3 percent for the last four years.)
The student pushed back. 'He said, 'I'm sorry, but maybe you didn't hear me. I love it here,'' Burstein said."
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Publication Date: 4/16/2018