In her Aug. 31 editorial Alli Buettner wrote that our happiness at Emory is conditional because of three factors: Emory is a haven for Ivy League rejects; Emory doesn’t offer enough financial aid; and smaller academic departments are … well, smaller?
Though I could respond to all three of her points, I want to focus on her second (After all, I don’t have all day): Emory is expensive and doesn’t offer enough financial aid, especially merit-based.
The ability to finance education and the high cost of college are national issues (and certainly not unique to Emory). There were 40 million Americans in student loan debt in 2014, totalling $1.2 trillion, according to credit bureau Experian. And with one statistic, I have used more concrete evidence than what was used in Buettner’s editorial. It is hilarious that an actual publication that calls itself a news source would publish a sentence that says: “For many of the students I have spoken with, financial aid is not as good as they would like it to be.” That sounds harsh, but I used to be an editor at the Wheel, so it’s totally cool if I say that (but if you say it, I will come after you with the fire of a thousand suns). Plus, the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t as good as I’d like them to be, but I live in the real world.
Either way, I don’t want to excuse Emory of its obligation to provide students with financial aid and give in to the “everybody else is doing it” argument of high tuition costs, but I do think that if you’re going to argue that Emory does an especially bad job of providing merit-based aid, you need to compare it to similar universities. So, I did.
It seems like the question most schools face is simple: Should I give more merit-based aid to fewer students, or less aid to more students? Through its Emory Scholars Program (which, granted, has its own faults), it seems like Emory has chosen to give more aid to fewer students. And so have some of Emory’s peers. According to 2012 College Board data, Boston College, Skidmore and Johns Hopkins give merit-based aid to only 1 percent of their freshman classes. In the 2013-2014 school year, Emory provided 36.6 percent of aid recipients with merit-based aid, while four percent of freshmen with no financial need received merit-based aid. Four percent does fall below the average of 14 percent of freshmen who received merit-based aid across more than 600 colleges and universities. But, remember, the four percent only includes freshmen who had no financial need and does not account for the freshmen who received merit-based aid but also received need-based aid.
In addition to Emory Scholars, there are other types of merit-based aid you can receive through Emory. All you have to do is Google “Emory merit-based aid,” but after reading Buettner’s editorial, I assume absolutely no research was done, outside of anecdotal evidence.
Another question universities have to ask themselves is: Do we use our financial aid allocation for merit-based or need-based aid? There’s a strong argument to be made (and that has been made) that universities should use their financial aid allocations for the students who actually need it.
Emory offers a program called Emory Advantage, which is specifically for students whose families make less than $100,000 a year, with additional support for students whose families make less than $50,000 a year (and, full disclosure, I was a beneficiary of this program). The program provides funding to either replace student loans or caps the amount of money a student borrows, in addition to the need-based grant Emory already provides.
For example, if your family makes less than $50,000 per year (less than the cost of tuition and other expenses for one year for an Emory student), you may receive a $35,000 grant from Emory’s financial aid office and the ability to take out $15,000 in student loans. But with Emory Advantage, instead of actually taking out those loans, Emory gives you a “loan replacement grant” of $15,000 so that you don’t incur that debt.
Emory also offers need-based aid outside of this program. According to U.S. News & World Report’s data from 2013, the average percent of financial need met for Emory students was 96.5 percent. So, almost everyone. Of course, the way universities define need and how families define need are totally different, but 96.5 percent is pretty high, even if the numbers are rigged.
A conversation about what Emory could do to make its students happier is important, and I do think some of the points Buettner makes might have some evidence to back them up. Problem is, after reading her editorial, I don’t know if that’s the case.
Gina Chirillo is an Emory alum from the Class of 2012. She served as the Associate Editor and the Sports Editor for the Wheel.