$250,000 Family Income and Needs Aid

Union College in New York attempts to bridge a gap.

October 7, 2019

Union College, in New York State, costs more than $73,000 to attend, including tuition, room and board, and books. Union is one of the few colleges that meets the full need of students it admits, but it is not need blind.

Today it is announcing a new effort to recruit from a pool that officials at Union say gets lost in the struggle of colleges to keep up with student demand: students from families with income of up to $250,000 who have an expected family contribution of $90,000 or less. Union is committed to giving each of the students who come from these families at least $20,000 in scholarship aid.

The grants, dubbed Making U Possible Family Grants, come as colleges struggle to meet the need of students. The wealthy universities (think Harvard and Stanford Universities) pour more money into financial aid, are need blind and count families earning well into six figures as financially needy, costing only a little more that Union. Union is wealthy compared to most colleges (with an endowment of nearly half a billion dollars) but has a small fraction of the endowments of the wealthiest colleges in the country.

Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment, said the college has been on a roll, with applications going up (to 6,000), and admissions letting in less than 40 percent of applicants. There were about 550 students in the freshman class this year.

"There's lot of good stuff going on."

That comes at a cost: $14 million for financial aid for the freshman class.

A few years ago, Malatesta was a speaker at a prep school. The students didn't look poor, and they weren't poor. But a college counselor at the school told him after the appearance that despite his claims about aid, "for some families it's too late." They were too wealthy for Union's need-based aid and not wealthy enough to afford the college.

The question was how to use the university's limited resources to make a difference.

In the end, the university anticipates spending $800,000 on the initiative in year one, and more in subsequent years (for additional classes to join).

For Malatesta, the question to ask about the spending is whether it is hurting low-income students, and he says it is not.

Union isn't changing its policies regarding low-income students. It is shifting money from non-need-based aid to the new program.

"We feel we have to go beyond where were are," he said.

"If we were four times our size, or four times as wealthy," Union could consider other options, he said.

"This is 50 students. I don't want to pretend I'm changing the world."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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