University policies shift to address financial need

Blake Blevins

Last October the University of Kentucky announced intent to refocus aid allocation from a primary basis of academic merit to a basis of financial need. This is to occur as part of a five year strategy designed to increase retention and graduation rates.

Any institution that can open more doors to applicants from strained financial backgrounds should do so.

Such a notion from a flagship state university is admirable and will certainly assist in achieving UK’s goal of improving campus diversity; but the strategy is not a complete solution, having flaws and begging questions. 

With the assumption that UK will continue to assess financial need primarily through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), certain aspects of satisfying increasing financial need may go unaddressed.

The FAFSA, while an asset to many demographics, seems to overlook others. Many students agree that the FAFSA overestimates the financial contributions of their families—particularly those from families with large amounts of debt, many dependents and households of divorce.

Projected contribution of many families do not account for certain financial obligations that may supersede higher education and. the FAFSA does not accommodate situations in which families are financially capable but unwilling to provide contribution.

Many students with unique financial situations do not know how to communicate their circumstance on forms such as the FAFSA, subsequently ‘falling through the cracks’ of such a bureaucratic form of assessment. 

Furthermore, as the University of Kentucky (among other institutions) moves to provide more need-based financial aid, it also moves to become inherently more expensive. Efforts to provide financial assistance accompanied with decisions to transition towards higher tuition and more expensive housing options creates a feeling of counterproductivity.

UK has also announced the implementation of a new fee for membership to its honors college. This fee, set at $500 for the next academic year, may work to decrease diversity within the honors college and the university as a whole, prompting high achieving, financially strained students to pursue more affordable programs. 

Movements to accomplish aspirations of inclusiveness regardless of demographic deserve support, but should not be made rashly. Along the journey to maximize quality, diversity and affordability of higher education, UK must consider both the immediate, long-term, direct and indirect implications of all policy changes.

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