Rising college and university costs are putting a large strain on students and their parents, forcing them to search for alternate funding sources. Fortunately, nearly 11,000 University of Wyoming students receive millions in federal and state aid to help them earn a degree.
UW students received $60 million in scholarships and grants and $48 million in loans in the 2014-2015 school year. Overall, 78 percent of all undergraduate Wyoming residents received some sort of financial aid.
In-state students have a couple options for financial assistance. From the federal side, Pell Grants are a primary option awarded to students based on financial need instead of educational merit.
Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is required for students applying for Pell Grants, although not all students choose to complete one. While finding out exactly how many students currently have a Pell Grant, the number of FASFA forms students fill out is a good estimate, according to Kathy Bobbitt, director of student financial aid at UW.
“Indications are that students not completing the FAFSA have another means of paying for their college education and, in many cases, may not be Pell Grant eligible, which is a federal fund based on need,” she said.
However, Wyoming students can also receive financial aid through the Hathaway Scholarship. Implemented in 2006, the scholarship has grown into an important part of many students’ educational careers, UW Board of Trustee member Mike Massie said.
“It reduces the cost of higher education and rewards exceptional work in high school,” he said. “The two primary reasons the Legislature formed the Hathaway Scholarship Fund was to encourage greater achievement in high school and to reduce financial barriers for students to attend a college or the university in Wyoming, and it’s performed both of those goals admirably.”
The bill was written so residents who graduated before 2006 are not eligible for Hathaway funding, Massie explained, so nontraditional students would need to find other sources of aid.
More than 3,000 Wyoming residents received money through one of the three Hathaway levels, based mostly on need, high school GPA and ACT score. Nearly 1,500 students fall into the honors category, which requires a 3.5 high school GPA and a cumulative ACT score of 25. Almost 1,100 students achieved a 3.0 GPA and a 21 ACT score, the requirements for the performance level of the Hathaway. The opportunity level is based both on a 2.5 GPA and a score of 19 on the ACTs.
Hathaway Scholarships provided nearly $11 million to Wyoming students.
“(The Hathaway Scholarship) really took the cost of tuition out of the equation for students who meet the success curriculum and meet the academic requirements,” said Sara Axelson, vice president for student affairs. “The needle has moved in terms of the number of students going on to college since it was implemented. I know it’s made progress in terms of access.”
Students who completed a FASFA could also take part in a needs component worked into the Hathaway. And because the Hathaway and Pell Grant are separate entities, students can benefit from both, Axelson said.
“Students that qualify for need-based aid, they’ll get the Hathaway needs component, but most likely, some will qualify for Pell Grants or loans, and that’s great,” she said. “It helps support their overall cost of attendance, and we try to keep our costs as low as possible. But when you calculate room and board, books, tuition, fees and extra expenses students have, it’s a lot for some families.”
About 30 percent of currently enrolled UW students are the first generation in their family to get a higher education, Axelson said, partially because the Hathaway made some opportunities possible.
A recent proposal in the Legislature to increase the Hathaway Scholarship awards by 10 percent was killed in the Wyoming Senate Appropriations Committee. This would have been the first change to the Hathaway since it began nine years ago, Massie said.
“It’s only been adjusted for inflation once, and that was just for 5 percent,” he said. “As a result, the purchasing power has diminished quite a bit, and if the purchasing power is going down, so is the effectiveness of the fund itself.”
Still, the endowment is constitutionally protected, meaning the Legislature cannot reduce it without a statewide vote of approval, Massie said.
“It’s still one of the most lucrative scholarship funds in the United States,” he said. “It’s still a solid investment in our students.”