On March 11, 2009, admissions1 consultants attended the New York State Association for College Admissions Counseling (NYSACAC) forum “The Economy and College Admissions: This Year’s Financial Picture for Students and Families.”   

The program was held at Sage College’s Albany Campus. The informative session updated the audience on proposed and revamped federal and state financial aid methodology. Not surprisingly, a lot of the discussion was couched in the background of ‘the new normal’ –the changes brought about by and the impact of the economic downturn.

Jim Vallee of the Sage College Financial Aid Office gave a very interesting presentation on financial aid changes for the upcoming academic year. He touched on proposed and permanent changes to the federal and state guidelines and how they may impact families. The changes he discussed included five new questions concerning a student’s independent status. Jim pointed out that these changes potentially create more questions than answers.

Jim also addressed Governor Paterson’s proposed budget cuts which will have an impact on the NYS Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The proposal includes changing how students become TAP-eligible based on the number of enrolled credits hours. If passed, the changes to TAP would include allowing students to be TAP-eligible based on number of credits attempted (up to 120 as the maximum) instead of based on the traditional eight semesters. Jim suggested that while the proposed budget cuts would save the state 65 million dollars the changes could adversely affect students who may be full-time but only taking 12 credits. Financial aid and Admissions administrators have lobbied state legislators to vote against these proposed changes. The outcome is still to be determined.

Attendees from high schools, colleges, and independent counselors participated actively in the discussion. The attendees addressed recent changes in consumer spending habits and how this will play out for admissions and financial aid at colleges. Jim anticipates more students and families will be lining up at the financial aid office to discuss issues such as recent layoffs and changes in income and assets. It was also discussed that schools are making more of an effort to increase their financial aid budgets to assist the growing number of families in need. Sage College has committed to funding full need (based on the results of the FAFSA) for those students who receive aid. So while the news of dramatic decreases in many school’s endowments seem grave, it is clear that information on how schools are addressing the decrease and how it will impact students and families is key. For instance, many schools’ budgets are not based on endowment interest income and most (if not all) schools are committed to making college costs as affordable to families as possible. Many have shown this commitment through increased and/or continued financial aid commitments (like Sage College).

Because of the economic downturn, families should not assume that private or high cost schools are now financially out of reach. Investigate the individual school’s response to the economic downturn and determine what financial aid options are available to the student and family before deciding the next step. Remember to:

  • Make it a point to visit the school (physically or virtually) to ask questions.
  • Plan ahead to ensure that you meet all admissions and financial aid deadlines
  • Remember to follow through on any requests or suggestions made by the school.

While we are all acclimating to the “new normal”—remember that information and preparedness will help you and your family to navigate this new territory. The crisis will pass but the knowledge that we take with us from our new normal will help students and families to understand their options and make the best decisions for now and for the future.