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Financial Aid: How Do We Do? (2/2)

Yesterday, I presented the design of our experiment intended to compare financial aid across the Ivy League for three different hypothetical applicants. Today, we reveal the results.

The y-axis on the graphs below represents the net of total anticipated grant aid (institutional and federal) subtracted from the cost of attendance for each university; in other words, it is the amount that would have to be paid by a student via some combination of loans, family contributions, and student savings/job income. Some schools artificially deflated the out-of-pocket family contribution by assuming a heavy loan burden and/or significant student financial contribution through on-campus work (Cornell was particularly egregious on this point). However, since we’re primarily interested in the total amount that has to be paid out by families — regardless of where that money comes from — this sort of creative number-fudging has been ignored.

What are the morals of this story? Well, number one — all institutions (except Brown) appear to be more or less equally affordable for people from low-income backgrounds. Columbia is a little pricier and Cornell (strangely) claims to be a bit cheaper, but at this level, the playing field seems relatively even:

Ivy Financial Aid Tennessee1.jpg

In the middle-class scenario, Harvard and Princeton begin to separate themselves from the rest to the tune of approximately $5,000 to $10,000 a year (not taking into account Brown). Multiply that over four years and you have a new car. Dartmouth and Yale can make 2,000 or so compelling arguments against Columbia and Penn and twice that many against Cornell. Meanwhile, Christina Paxson at Brown is looking around her office for a folder large enough to hold all of the checks that have been arriving in the mail before she runs to the bank:

Ivy Financial Aid Minnesota1.jpg

Our more affluent student sees a particularly large division between Harvard and Princeton on one hand and everybody else on the other. Columbia and Penn, which are the next least-expensive, are almost $20,000 a year more than Princeton in this case. Dartmouth will cost around $7,000 more than Columbia and Penn, putting it slightly behind Yale and next to Cornell. (President Paxson is still at the bank):

Ivy Financial Aid NY1.jpg

So while Dartmouth doesn’t bring up the rear thanks to Phil’s partner in crime in Providence, the College does little to separate itself from the non-Harvard/Princeton contingent despite our large endowment relative to everyone except HYP. (Yale, curiously, lags behind). Amidst weak applicant numbers and concerted efforts at yield management, wouldn’t Dartmouth be wise to take advantage of its favorable financial position as compared to say, Columbia, to set itself apart when sending out aid offers? I can think of no more effective way to make the College more appealing to prospective students. Money, unlike poorly produced admissions videos, is something that people can understand and respect. Give students concrete and sensible reasons (as measured in dollars) to choose Dartmouth over its peers, and they will.

Or we can just continue to brag about how our new energy institute, which is named after an oil tycoon, is going to solve the world’s sustainability problems. Maybe that’ll work instead?

Part 1, Part 2

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