- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The president of St. Mary’s College of Maryland is hoping to reverse a trend of fewer applications to the public liberal arts college that he fears will lead to a decline in diversity in the student body.
The offices of admissions and financial aid need to work together more closely to make sure students admitted to the college are able to afford to attend it, said Joseph Urgo, the college president. In the 2010-2011 academic year St. Mary’s College had the fifth-highest tuition in the nation among public four-year institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Those issues are tied to a reorganization of the admissions and financial aid offices, Urgo said, which included eliminating earlier this month several positions and the long-time employees who occupied those jobs.
Urgo said the changes are needed to help boost the number and diversity of applicants to the college.
The college in the past separated its admissions from its financial aid process. Students were admitted regardless of their financial profile and merit aid was awarded to the highest achievers.
Then, according to Urgo, the financial aid department distributed need-based aid among students who qualified with a cap on the amount any single student would be awarded.
Urgo said that this policy left too many admitted students with a large gap between what they were awarded and what they could afford. Many students would decide not to attend based on that gap.
“We need to do better — and we will,” Urgo wrote in an email to the college’s faculty, staff and students.
“Because our aid packages are so low, we might be getting a reputation” for being a college that does not give out much need-based aid, he said.
The new policy will award higher amounts of need-based aid to fewer students offered admission. Because some admitted students decided they could not afford to attend sometimes the aid initially awarded would go unspent, Urgo said. “The net number of students who actually come with aid will remain the same,” he said.
While the college is hoping to grow the pot of money awarded to students with financial need, for the time being that total amount will remain the same. The college is in the planning stages of a campaign to raise private funds to supplement that fund.
“The point is to be more strategic in the way we use money” for tuition aid in a more need-sensitive manner, Pat Goldsmith, the college’s new vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, said.
She said there will be situations where the college cannot give enough money to a student based on merit or need that would leave the student with huge loans. In such a case, she said, that student may not be offered a spot at the college.
The hope is to offer larger grants and smaller loans to students with financial need.
Over the last few years the college has shifted how it awards aid from about 25 percent need-based and 75 percent merit to a nearly 50-50 split.
That shift will likely continue, although, Goldsmith said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see merit aid completely disappear.”
Students will be required to apply for merit aid, which will be used more as a recruiting tool, Goldsmith said.
All scholarship applicants will be asked to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine if they might qualify for federal and state funds.
The president said as the number of applications comes closer to dipping below 2,000 he has become worried about the caliber of the students.
In his email Monday to the college community, Urgo said, “To date, our entering classes have been consistently strong. We must secure that strength going forward in an increasingly competitive environment.”
The college began using a common college application last year that allowed students to fill out one form to apply to multiple colleges.
Students applying to St. Mary’s College also were required to fill out a supplemental section of the application, Urgo said. That may have turned off some students, and that part of the application will be dropped, he said.
The college is also aligning application deadlines with other colleges, revising recruitment materials and stepping up recruitment travel schedules, Urgo said in his email.
In that email, he acknowledged that news of the changes “took many by surprise.” He thanked Rich Edgar, the former admissions director, and Lisa Crowe, an office administrator, for their years of service. The positions the two employees held were eliminated in the reorganization of the office and they no longer work at the college.
An online petition was started by alumni asking the college’s trustees to rehire Edgar and Crowe; the petition had more than 850 signatures as of Wednesday.
“We don’t get involved in personnel matters; we leave that” to the college president, Molly Mahoney Matthews, chair of the college’s board of trustees, said this week. She added of Edgar and Crowe, “Their service has been exceptional.”
Mahoney Matthews said there are 10 trustees on the board who are alumni of St. Mary’s. “We take the alumni voice very seriously,” Mahoney Matthews said.
She said the board will review a committee recommendation of the admissions and financial aid reorganization this fall.
Neil Irwin, an alumnus of the college and trustee who chairs the admissions and financial aid committee, this week had no comment on the changes.