Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need Depending on How You Define Need

Chained money representing colleges that meet 100% of needProbably the biggest shock families experience as they consider their college options is finding out how much they’re expected to pay for college. But I think a close second would be how few colleges are actually able to meet the family’s admittedly flawed calculated need. According to CollegeData.com, only 74 colleges and universities claim to meet 100% of a student’s financial need.

If a family is able to show financial need, good luck in finding a school the will actually cover it.

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And ultimately, they aren’t very likely to get into one of these select few because, well, most of them are one of the select few. Half of the colleges have acceptance rates of 20% or less. Only four are over 50%. Not surprising, only six of the schools weren’t ranked in the top 50 for US News Best College Rankings for National Universities or Liberal Arts Colleges.

You just can’t help but think, “wow, prestigious and generous too, no wonder they’re such great schools!”

Actually, I have to admit, I can help myself.

What meeting 100% of need looks like

Why? Because of the 74 schools, 34 had an average net price after gift aid of over $8,000 for families with incomes of $30,000 or less. Harvard and Duke don’t report any average for this category. Only eleven had an average of less than $5,000 for this category.

I use $8,000 since virtually all students will qualify for the $5,500 Direct Federal Student loan. When you add it the mandatory student contribution many of the schools require, I can see the where an $8,000 is reasonable. However, we are talking about the lowest income category. I’m sure these kids have plenty of expenses that won’t fall under the Total Cost of Attendance which is why I mentioned the number under $5,000 as well.

There are 181 other colleges and universities that have an average net price of $8,000 or less for the lowest income category but only 34 among the 72 schools claiming to meet 100% of need. Does that sound like meeting full need to you?

Colleges get to define demonstrated need

Chances are that most of the schools claiming to meet 100% of need are using their own special definition of demonstrated need since 69 require students to submit the PROFILE as part of their financial aid application. That’s the financial aid application that wants to know your home equity which the FAFSA doesn’t and maybe the year and make of the car you’re driving. Of those using the PROFILE, 64 also require the Non-custodial supplement. It’s their money, they get to decide how to distribute it.

Furthermore, the PROFILE is the form that low-income students don’t find out if they qualify for the fee waiver until after they submit their application. Maybe that’s why there are so few freshman receiving Pell Grants at these schools. In fact, at least half of the schools wouldn’t meet the Education Trust’s proposed bottom-line standards for the minimum percentage of freshman with Pell Grants.

It’s really about priorities

Now I know that some would argue that colleges simply can’t admit more poor students if they’re going to meet 100% of financial need, no matter how they may decide to define it. Well then, how about we just compare these elite schools among themselves? And let’s avoid the entire income category issues. Let’s take a look at the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants compared to the average endowment per student (see the list below.)

Colorado College and Wake Forest are tied for the lowest percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants at 8% each. Colorado College has an average endowment per student of $314,450 and Wake Forest’s is $151,887.  Southern University at New Orleans has the highest percentage of freshman with Pell Grants at 96% and an average endowment of only $1,872.

Southern University at New Orleans too much of an unknown school for you to use for comparisons? Then how about looking at the five colleges were 16% of freshman are receiving Pell Grants? Four of the colleges have average endowments of less than $400,000 per student. The fifth, Yale, has an endowment of over $1,000,000 per student. Maybe they should visit the other schools and learn something about doing more with less.

They aren’t meeting need if you have to pay it back

One last thing to know about colleges claiming to meet 100% need. They aren’t reporting this to the federal government. It’s information that is collected as part of the Common Data Set (CDS). Publishers like US News use the CDS information to create their rankings and college search websites.

The reason I’m telling you this is because the CDS does not use the same definitions as required by the federal government. The government defines average net price as the amount families pay after gift aid. It doesn’t include any loans or work study funds.

However, the CDS definition allows colleges to count subsidized loans as meeting need. Even though it’s only the interest that the government is subsidizing, the schools get to claim the entire amount in their calculations. So you really need to check with the individual schools to find out if it’s using loans as part of the financial aid award to meet 100% of need.

Now you know why this is a list of colleges as those that “claim” to meet 100% of need and why I’m not necessarily impressed with their generosity. You can find information on all of these colleges and more in the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.

Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need
(Self-Reported through the Common Data Set)

Listing of colleges that meet 100% of need, along with acceptance rates, and average net price by selected income category. #CollegeAdmissions
  1. […] Merit money is awarded by colleges to attract students to the college. Not all institutions provide merit money. The top ranked private colleges and universities generally do not provide merit money since they easily attract the country’s best students. Such schools claim that all of their students are academically talented and therefore only provide need-based financial aid. […]

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