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Meeting 100% of Need

The high school seniors were sold on Albright College, but could they afford it?

Eighteen years old and eager to embark on a college career, they loved the friendliness, the individual attention, the academic quality, the sense of community—”of family,” said Imani Palmer, 18, from Philadelphia, who loves literature and feels called to teaching. They felt welcome and comfortable on campus during their visits and in their interviews, and that they could achieve their academic and life goals at Albright.

Sulamit Quezada, from Hamilton, N.J., wants to be a defense lawyer. Stephan Brown, a self-taught guitarist from Philadelphia, loves electronics, computers and music.

Julianne Lowenstein, of Abington, Pa., long ago set her sights on being an elementary school teacher, and by her sophomore year of high school she and a couple of friends were helping kids at an elementary school stage plays to help them gain confidence as well as knowledge.

A trained dancer and nationally recognized volunteer, Marisa Mastripolito, of Swarthmore, Pa., aspires to political advocacy by becoming a lobbyist for Americans United for Life.

Yet an Albright education costs $46,660 a year, and the prospect of being heavily burdened with student loans, or of their parents having to sign off on loans, was daunting.

Then they got their financial award letters. And they all said yes to Albright and started their studies this fall.

Palmer, majoring in elementary education, has joined the Pennsylvania State Education Association and Club Vogue, a fashion group—she sews as a hobby.

Quezada, pre-law with a double major in psychology and criminology, has already signed up for mock trial. She does Zumba in the Schumo Center with friends and is excited about joining the Multi-cultural Club.

An elementary education and French major, Lowenstein is already helping students at 13th and Union Elementary school, and she is looking into helping them stage a play there.

Brown received a talent award and plays with the jazz band. The computer science and digital media major signed up for Cinema Club and Breakfast Club, an organization that celebrates food, and he plans to participate in the game Humans vs. Zombies on campus.

Mastripolito, who is majoring in political science and communications, is running for freshman class president. She’s a member of the Lion Diplomats, which helps the Alumni Association, and is considering her options for an alternate—community service—spring break.

A diverse group, but they all could say yes to Albright because of an innovative financial aid policy that was the bold response to a serious problem. When Albright College enrolled the smallest freshman class in memory, Gregory Eichhorn, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admission, knew it was time for a new strategy.

In 2012, instead of the usual freshman class of about 500, Albright welcomed just 411 traditional day students.

It was a problem that needed addressing, and Eichhorn and his team got to work on it.

Some 18 months later, Albright had a different problem: the largest freshman class in its 167-year history—675 traditional day students—whom it scrambled to accommodate in residence halls and classrooms while also maintaining services.

But, as President Lex McMillan put it, “it’s a nice problem to have.”

What caused the turnaround was a bold initiative that came out of Eichhorn’s office: a commitment to cover 100 percent of students’ institutionally determined financial need.

Simply stated, this need is the cost of tuition, room and board, minus the expected family contribution determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which takes into account a family’s assets, income, family size and other factors.

It was a strategy in place at only a handful of private colleges in Pennsylvania, and it presented some risks, Eichhorn said. “Very few schools meet 100 percent of need,” he noted. “Mostly those are very wealthy schools that do it.”

Also, he said, Albright did not want to lower the high academic standards that are at the core of an Albright education.

But students, including those from the middle class, were feeling the pinch, choosing to go elsewhere or change schools because of financial concerns.

As Andrea E. Chapdelaine, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, put it, “There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing students who enjoy the experience and are learning, thriving, having to walk away from it.”

Adding to the challenges, as McMillan and Eichhorn pointed out, students have more choices than ever—4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., while the number of graduating high school seniors has declined.


Against this backdrop, Eichhorn considered several models for meeting students’ financial need.

“Historically, we had met about 70 percent of need,” Eichhorn said. “We ran numbers with the financial aid and business office, and the model that became most attractive was meeting 100 percent of need.”

This produced what Chris K. Hanlon, director of financial aid, called pricing clarity.

“If the federal government says they’re going to pay $10,000,” said Hanlon, “they’re going to pay $10,000.”

The remaining cost would be covered by a combination of work-study jobs, federal student loans, federal and state grants, and College scholarships.

It was a paradigm shift, Hanlon said, but necessary if Albright was “to compete for and win the best students that we can.”

Eichhorn and Hanlon found a receptive audience in the president’s office.

“In a competitive field, I thought, this would help set us apart,” McMillan said.

Administrators and faculty asked many questions, of course, about implementation, whether the college could afford it, and its impact on the high quality of students Albright strives to attract.

The faculty had the same concerns as the administration, Chapdelaine said, but ultimately, “They were supportive of going forward, as long as we had continual assessment, revisiting, and modeling based on projected future enrollment and financial trends.”

Meeting 100 percent of need is affordable, Eichhorn said, because the college would be enrolling more students and thus receiving more in tuition.

“The biggest concern was that too many people take it, or too many people take it that would be too expensive, and we couldn’t afford it,” he said.

But the policy, which applies to transfer students as well, met expectations. The application pool grew significantly. Regarding the quality of the incoming student body, Christopher H. Boehm, assistant vice president for enrollment management and director of admission, noted that the class of 2017 has “exactly the same academic profile as last year. Twenty percent are in the top 10 percent of their graduating high school class.”

Why did it work so well?

Hanlon credited a price point that makes sense to all families, regardless of their income: low, middle or high.

It also addressed the issue of student loan debt, a big concern for parents and students, he said. “By investing more of our own money, we were able to control that load for parents and students.”

Albright was affordable.

“I’ve heard wonderful comments from students,” McMillan said, “about their gratitude, their excitement, saying, ‘I didn’t think this was possible, and this was my first-choice college.'”

Furthermore, Hanlon noted, “You can talk about a lot more than just money if you take money off the table.”

Boehm said, “By taking the fear of cost out of the discussion, we can talk about how wonderful an opportunity — academically, socially and residentially — they would have at Albright.”

In fact, the size and enthusiasm of the new class have affected the dynamics of the classroom, Chapdelaine said. “The freshmen seem especially engaged, and the faculty are reporting that things are going very well,” she said.

Another bonus: The larger class size means that Albright can consider adding new programming.

“This gives us the opportunity to look at student needs, our strengths, our majors,” Chapdelaine said.

Nonetheless, meeting 100 percent of financial need remains a work in progress.

“We are monitoring it very carefully,” McMillan said. “We probably gave away more money this year than we would have liked to, but we are fine-tuning the financial aid we offer. We’ll know more every year.”

But for all its innovation, McMillan said, “this is an organic outgrowth of commitment to our values that college is a means to a better life. We have long tried to make that available to young people who otherwise could not go.”

Sitting in Jake’s Java in the Campus Center after a full day of classes, Imani Palmer put it in the most basic terms. Although she had other choices, she said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do somewhere else. I’m really happy I came here.”

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