Shift from Merit Scholarships to Need-Based Aid

Katie Ward
Staff Writer

Bob Spatig’s large office is on the second floor of Lone Mountain — the interior consists of supple leather chairs, mahogany desks covered in files, computers with multiple screens. A window displays a portion of the iconic Lone Mountain view of the Bay resting calmly behind His personal assistant sits right outside in a confined cubicle, with desks and computers to himself. They are both donned in high-end business wear.

Vice Provost of Strategic Enrollment Management, Bob Spatig, joined the USF Admissions team in July to devise a new strategy for scholarship distribution. During a presentation to ASUSF Senate during one of their meetings in early February, Spatig briefly introduced the new scholarship model as a decrease in merit scholarships and an increase in need-based financial aid. Spatig, accompanied by the Vice Provosts, Provosts Council, an outside consulting firm, and others, will implement this new program for next year’s freshman class’s financial aid packages.

The most immediate change in this shift towards need-based dominant financial aid will be made to merit scholarships. Last year, the President’s, Vice Provost’s, and Dean’s scholarships were $14,000, $13,000, and $10,000 respectively. Next year’s incoming freshman class can expect those numbers to change to $15,000, $12,500, and $5,000. By dramatically decreasing the amount given in the Dean’s scholarships, Spatig proposes that the saved funds can instead be contributed towards students with higher need.

This change in scholarship will not affect the financial packages of any current students — those numbers are fixed as long as the student meets the academic renewal criteria. Merit scholarship packages remain at their established price for the recipient’s entire time at USF, and while that might be relieving for some students, it is also important to remember that they remain fixed even as tuition prices are hiked.

Next year’s class will be the only students experiencing any significant changes in scholarship distribution. The students who will likely face scholarship cuts are those whose parents are in the highest income level ($110k+/yr), and are below average academically in terms of GPA and test scores. Spatig comments, “So if you’re above that 3.6 GPA, you’ll get the same amount, or even a little bit more, but if you’re below that, you’ll get a little bit less.” A little bit more in the sense that the President’s award has risen $1,000, and is given to students of the highest academic qualifications. Otherwise, students who do not have financial need and are academically average or below average can expect the scholarships of lower quantities, or even no financial assistance at all. Spatig continues, “The dean’s went from ten [thousand] to five, but we’ve expanded the amount of students who will get Dean’s awards, because if we can give $5,000 and get $40,000 in tuition, that also helps fund the more students […] with the highest need [who] will have stronger financial aid packages.”

This shift is also expected to change the makeup of next year’s freshman class. Spatig projected that the class of 2019 will be somewhat smaller, by an estimated 75 students. He also suggested that there will be a slight decline — “like half a percent” — in students of color, though Spatig expects an “increase in Hispanics and African Americans.” There are also projected increases in American geographical diversity, and diversity within the International Population.

Whether or not these seemingly positive changes in demographics are affected by the shift in scholarships remains unclear. “I think we’ll see a big change… if it works,” Spatig added.

Blaze Caruso, a sophomore at USF and a recipient of substantial need-based aid, said that his financial aid package was a defining factor in his school selection. “I know that I’m definitely getting more — a lot more — in financial aid than in scholarships. Because of the financial aid it’s cheaper for me to come to a school like USF than a public school like SF State.”

Caruso believes the transition to be a step in the right direction for students in situations similar to his own. “[The transition to more need-based aid] will definitely be a better way to help out less fortunate students who need the money to attend school, rather than basing everything on past GPA and test scores,” he said.

Based on Spatig’s modelling, current USF students can expect to see a change in next year’s freshman class, but he believes that to be a positive matter. “I mean the only majority that we have are women, but you can’t look at any other category, there’s not a majority religion, there’s not a majority race or ethnicity, there’s not a majority in any socioeconomic bracket, it’s very distributed. Its one of the reasons I came here, and its my job even in demographically challenging times to make sure that we are true to that mission,” he said.

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