Economic crisis means more, needier applicants for financial aid

    As the stock market continued to decline last fall, Associate Provost Michael Mills wrote letters to prospective students assuring them that a Northwestern education was still within their financial reach.

    “We were really afraid about people writing off Northwestern,” Mills said. “We wrote [to parents and students] saying ‘That’s hard to get your mind around, but it’s not uncommon for Northwestern to cost less than a Michigan or an Illinois school.’”

    Early data on this year’s applications showed that a higher number of students are applying for and requiring more aid.

    “We got a big boost in applications from very needy families, so that tells me our strategy worked,” Mills said.

    While the economy has drained about a third of the university endowment, Northwestern’s policy of need-blind admission will not change, Mills said. Other schools, such as Tufts University in Massachusetts, are considering abandoning need-blind admission due to the declining economy.

    “But we’re going to be fine, because our endowment is so big,” Mills said.

    “Top students will go to top schools. Northwestern always fills up.”
    – Mark Witte, Director of Undergraduate Studies for Economics

    With a smaller endowment and an increase in the financial aid given to students, the university will have to cut back on construction projects, dorm renovations and faculty salaries, said Mark Witte, Director of Undergraduate Studies for Economics at Northwestern. The university does, however, have investments in place to secure its long-term future, Witte said.

    “Universities think long-run: What do we need to do to make sure that Northwestern is around 100 years from now?” Witte said. “The endowment is down by a third. That’s a pretty good whack. But there are good years and bad years, so we won’t overact to things like that. The economy will not affect us much.”

    According to Witte, the economy will not lower the quality of students who attend Northwestern.

    “Top students will go to top schools. Northwestern always fills up,” he said, adding that a Northwestern degree will continue to make an impression.

    “Corporations and non-profits kind of rely on selective universities to filter the best and the brightest,” Mills said. “Of that group they take the subset, who graduates with the highest credentials and the highest GPAs.”

    While Witte said that a difficult job market might encourage more applicants to Northwestern’s graduate schools, Mills said that the harsh economy will make a college education even more meaningful.

    “For a $200,000 Bachelor’s degree, a thoughtful person will think, is this worth my while?” Mills said. “This will be more pronounced.”


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