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Study: Financial aid for lowest-income students decreasing

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Low-income students may be missing out on financial aid to students with merit scholarships and grants, a recent study by ProPublica suggests.

According to the study, U.S. Department of Education data from 1996 to 2012 shows public colleges and universities have been giving a decreasing percentage of grants to students in the lowest quartile of family income.

Some Ohio State students don’t think it should be that way.

“(Students that should receive aid) first are the needy students,”  said Jenny Querry, a second-year in English. “Out of those (students), those who have the most merit should have the money first. They are the most deserving.”

Ana Fetterman, a first-year in exploration, said she felt differently.

“(Schools) should focus more on merit, but not ignore someone’s financial crisis,” Fetterman said. “Reward the kids who work hard in school.”

In terms of dividing money between financially needy students and merit students, Fetterman said she believes money should be distributed 50-50.

“People who need financial aid should be given it, but they must work hard in high school with a diverse curriculum,” Fetterman said. “Neither (category) should be ignored, but (merit) students should be recognized.”

Querry and Fetterman disagreed about who should receive money if two equally academic students from different financial backgrounds applied for financial aid.

“If you had two students with the same ability, the more needy student should get the money,” Querry said.

Fetterman argued the opposing point though.

“They should distribute it equally if (the students) have equal academic records,” Fetterman said.

At OSU, administrators try to make sure aid is distributed equally.

“We have a balanced approach and invest in both need- and merit-based aid,” said Diane Stemper, the director of administration at the Office of Financial Aid, in an email.

Stemper noted OSU is a land-grant university, which means it was designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The original intent was for the schools to teach agriculture, military tactics and mechanics, as well as classical studies.

Stemper explained some of the steps the university has taken to provide help to low-income families.

“We’ve done a great deal for need-based students,” Stemper said. “An example of the impact of our increase in need-based funding is our Scarlet and Gray Grant that is awarded to financially needy students.”

The Scarlet and Gray Grant is awarded to Columbus campus undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and are in good academic standing, according to the Student Financial Aid website.

According to the OSU Financial Aid website, a grant is “gift aid awarded from federal, state, or university funds to undergraduate students with high financial need.” The university uses information from the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine eligibility for certain grants such as the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

The Federal Pell Grant is awarded to students that have an expected family contribution “less than or equal to the maximum figure established by the federal government for the academic year.” The aid awarded varies from year to year.

The FSEOG awards students to “exceptional financial need and low (expected family contribution).” The aid awarded varies depending on the funding available.

There are state grants as well, such as the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, and institutional grants like the Scarlet and Grey Grant and the Freshmen Foundation Program. All grants are determined on the information reported from the student’s individual FAFSA.

For the OCOG, the maximum award is $428 per semester. No other grant has a specific value and varies on different factors.

Stemper said lately OSU has also been working to help families who just need a little bit of help.

“In recent years, we have been able to award (aid) to students with a higher expected family contribution,” Stemper said. “This means we are able to assist a broader range of students who have financial aid.”

The expected family contribution is evaluated by the student’s FAFSA. Stemper said in 2007, the cutoff for eligibility for the Scarlet and Grey Grant was a $5,000 expected family contribution and the expected cutoff for eligibility for 2014 is set to be an expected family contribution of $9,500.

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