Northwestern University takes aim at student loan debt

By Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune

Northwestern University students who qualify for financial aid no longer will have to borrow to pay for their education, part of a plan announced Thursday to make the school more affordable and prevent students from being saddled with crippling debt.

Starting next fall, freshmen who ordinarily would have to take out loans will instead receive a combination of grants and scholarships, along with earnings from work-study and summer jobs, to cover their expenses. Current undergraduate students who already have $20,000 or more in loans will have that debt capped starting next fall, and receive a scholarship instead of having to borrow more, according to spokesman Alan Cubbage.

Around half of all Northwestern students qualify for financial aid, Cubbage said. Full-time tuition for undergraduates in 2015-16 is $48,624, according to the school’s website. Room and board, fees and average costs for books and personal expenses tack on almost $20,000 more.

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Northwestern also will increase aid for undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools, as well as for international, law school and business students.

“These new initiatives, along with other programs already in place, reaffirm the university’s commitment to making a Northwestern education accessible to qualified students from all economic backgrounds,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said in a statement. “We will continue to strengthen our efforts to make Northwestern a welcoming and inclusive community for all students.”

Financial assistance for undergraduates will total nearly $160 million in the 2016-17 school year, an increase of 55 percent over the past five years, according to university officials. Just over $147 million in scholarship money has been contributed through the university’s fundraising campaign.

Undocumented students, who do not qualify for federal or state loans and grants, now will qualify for the privately funded Northwestern scholarships already available to U.S. citizens who apply.

The university also said it will put up the money this year to cover the Illinois Monetary Award Program grants, which are not being released to college students because of the monthslong budget impasse in Springfield. About 500 students receive $2.4 million in MAP grants, according to the university.

“We continue to hope that the governor and the legislature can reach an agreement on a [fiscal year] 2016 budget and restore MAP funding, which supports Illinois students,” Schapiro said. “In order to enable our students to continue without incurring additional costs, Northwestern will stretch its institutional resources to make up for the lost state funds.”

Increased aid to international students was enabled by the largest gift in Northwestern history. Roberta “Bertie” Buffett Elliott donated $101 million to her alma mater in January 2015 to help enhance the field of global studies and endow scholarships for international students. A $100 million gift from J.B. and M.K. Pritzker in October is enabling more financial help for law school students.

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