At the University of Wyoming, 68 percent of first-time, full-time students in the fall 2016 semester received some form of institutional scholarship, according to a UW factbook published in December.
Institutional scholarships are generally covered by the university itself — unlike financial aid, which is often covered by the federal government, or the Hathaway Scholarship, which is covered directly by the state government.
This is good news for students, who are less likely to take out federal loans than the average U.S. student and more likely to graduate college debt-free. But offering discounted tuition is not ideal for the university’s coffers — President Laurie Nichols said the university is missing out on millions of dollars a year.
“In a sense, it’s really tuition-discounting,” she said. “We forego tuition because we discount it to students or we maybe offer a scholarship — but offering a scholarship is still foregoing tuition. It’s really just semantics what you call it. We are really starting to work towards doing less of that and moving more of our scholarshipping over to the (UW) Foundation.”
By shifting the responsibility of paying out institutional scholarships to the Foundation — which is in turn supported by private donors — Nichols said UW can put more tuition revenue toward supporting the functions of the university without losing students drawn to UW by its low price tag.
“It would not impact anything students would see,” Nichols said. “So, it’s not doing less. It might be doing more, eventually, if we can raise more dollars, but it certainly isn’t doing anything less than what we’re doing right now. It’s just a different source of funds.”
UW Foundation President and CEO Ben Blalock said the university’s fundraising arm already manages a $150 million endowment, which pays out roughly 4 percent — or $6 million — annually, which is then available for scholarships.
“We are actively involved in raising dollars for scholarship support,” Blalock said. “But I’m delighted we have a president who’s putting an even greater emphasis going forward because there’s keen support among our generous contributors to fund student opportunities.”
UW has historically dedicated $10 million of its state block grant for institutional scholarships, said David Jewell, associate vice president for budgeting and fiscal planning.
“That’s not necessarily the full amount we discount,” he said.
While the $10 million went toward Rocky Mountain Scholar Awards, Trustee Scholars Awards and other scholarships, Jewell said UW also discounts tuition for other students — such as the children of alumni.
And the $10 million is shrinking, he added, in an effort to free up block grant monies for other institutional needs. For fiscal year 2018, Jewell said the amount of block grant funds available to the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid dropped to roughly $9.5 million, with the shortfall being picked up by the Foundation’s private donors.
Jewell said UW will continue to gradually shift the burden of institutional scholarships.
Nichols said she is working with the Foundation staff to increase their contribution.
“We’re starting to work on it now as we work on developing stronger pools of scholarship dollars for students,” she said. “We’ve already started down that path. Are we where we want to be? Not at all, but we’re beginning to work.”
The topic of scholarship funding sources was briefly mentioned at a Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 18, during which the board examined a recently published capacity study conducted at UW.
The study found UW has the institutional and academic capacity to grow should it address a few areas — such as course scheduling and online course prices — holding it back. The study also suggested lowering non-resident tuition from its current average net price of $10,600 a semester to $9,500 to be more competitive for out-of-state students.
During the presentation, Nichols said it was urgent for the university to recapture revenue forfeited by institutional scholarships.
“It will be a little bit of a new day for this university to do that,” she said. “But we need to do it.”