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UW expands need-based aid, reduces merit-based

LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees voted Thursday to, beginning in the fall of 2020, offer significantly more need-based aid to Wyoming students while making a commensurate cut to merit-based aid for out-of-state students.

Under new policies, the amount of UW’s annual need-based aid is expected to rise from $272,663 to $1.1 million in just one year.

Kyle Moore, associate vice provost for enrollment management, said the change is “a clear demonstration to the students of Wyoming that we are committed to you.”

Merit-based aid is expected to drop from $5.9 million to $4.5 million in 2020.

The decision is likely to mark a reversal of the schools’ enrollment trends in the last few years, when out-of-state students have occupied an increasing percentage of the student body.

After UW created a five-year strategic plan in 2017 that called for increasing enrollment by more than 1,100 students, UW has relied on out-of-staters to boost its numbers as the pool of high school graduates in Wyoming has stagnated.

In UW’s record-breaking freshman class of 2018, more than half of the 1,859 students came from out-of-state.

However, the amount of merit-based aid given to out-of-state students meant UW received significantly less tuition revenue than projected.

By the end of February, UW brought in $58 million worth of tuition revenue for the school year. Administrators budgeted for $2.6 million more than that.

Under the university’s previous policy, out-of-state students with a high enough composite of ACT scores and grade-point averages automatically receive the Western Undergraduate Exchange award, which provides 150 percent of in-state tuition.

Before the changes made this week, a student needed at least a 28.5 on the ACT and a 3.5 GPA to qualify for the scholarship. GPAs need to be higher if a student has a low ACT score, and vice versa.

Currently, most out-of-state students receive at least some tuition discounts.

In the 2018 fiscal year, UW handed out $6.2 million in tuition waivers, with the Western Undergraduate Exchange accounting for $3.6 million and the Rocky Mountain Scholars accounting for $1.4 million of that.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, UW gave out 210 of those scholarships. The year prior, it was 187, according to David Jewell, associate vice president for financial planning.

The new plan approved by the trustees will limit the amount of Western Undergraduate Exchange and Rocky Mountain Scholars awards to 50, while also raising the academic requirements.

UW administrators expect the new approach to financial aid will increase the number of in-state students by about 75 while decreasing the number of out-of-state students by about the same amount.

To boost in-state enrollment, Moore said the university will need to “elevate the sophistication of our marketing and recruitment tactics.”

The trustees have also approved increasing the cost of out-of-state tuition by 8% in 2020. For the last five years, the trustees have been increasing both in-state and out-of-state tuition by 4% each year. The increase of 8% is the first major diversion from that practice.

Trustees approved another 4% increase for both in-state tuition and graduate school tuition.

In 2018, administrators were actually planning to ask trustees to greatly decrease the price of out-of-state tuition.

That proposal, which was largely panned by the trustees, came after UW leadership tasked Huron Consulting Group in 2017 with evaluating the university’s capacity for enrollment growth and attracting new students.

Broadly, the study found UW capable of — and well-suited for — expansion and recommended UW reduce its annual undergraduate out-of-state tuition from $15,480 to $9,500.

The new financial aid system also is increasing merit-based aid for Wyoming students. The plan approved this week will offer award commitments of $6,500, $3,500, $1,500 and $500 for new Wyoming high school graduates based upon their academic performance.

For the highest-achieving Wyoming students — those with an ACT score of over 32 and a high school grade-point average of at least 3.96 — the university will provide an award of $6,500, on top of what they receive from the state Hathaway Scholarship Program.

The existing UW Trustees Scholars Award program already provides full tuition, room and board for approximately the top 100 Wyoming students — for this year’s Trustees Scholars Award winners, the average GPA is 3.97, and the average ACT score is 32 — but the $6,500 award will cover those who meet the standard in the event they are not selected for the Trustees Scholars Award.

The new system will also offer a new $4,000 award for Wyoming community college transfers with associate degrees, 75 or fewer academic credits and grade-point averages of at least 3.0.

The need-based aid will cover up to 81% of a student’s cost to attend the university.