Indiana State University is projecting its expenses for scholarships will be $3.5 million over budget for fall and spring of the 2018-19 academic year.

As of Dec. 31, ISU’s expenditures for student scholarships and fee remissions was $16.1 million, while the base budget for that item had been $13.8 million.

ISU President Deborah Curtis said that’s “not a new phenomenon,” but ISU must respond by raising more funds through its foundation to support scholarships and take some of the burden off the general fund. 

“When you are spending that much over your budget out of the general fund on scholarships, it means those dollars can’t go other places,” and there are many other initiatives that need support, she said. ISU’s general fund budget for 2018-19 is $196.2 million.

ISU and the foundation “have a very aggressive strategy” to raise more private dollars for scholarships, Curtis said during a recent board of trustee finance committee meeting.

The university also is evaluating how it distributes its financial aid, with a goal of providing more assistance to those with financial need.

It is looking at the mix of merit-based versus need-based scholarships.

“There is a mismatch between what our mission is, serving so many low-income, first generation college goers, and yet being top heavy” in scholarships that are merit- or academics-based, she said.

That review includes looking at how ISU is “leveraging” its financial aid dollars, which means “making the most of the scholarship dollars you are spending,” Curtis said.

It helps institutions pinpoint the amount of aid students need to enroll.

Some students may not need as much scholarship funds to enroll, so some of those dollars could be redirected to someone who does have greater financial need, she said.

For example, Curtis said, if a student could attend ISU with an $8,000 scholarship rather than a $10,000 one, that could free up $2,000 for another student in need.

“We haven’t done enough study of that here,” she said.

According to Provost Michael Licari, “Many of our students come from backgrounds where they are financially challenged. More than half of our incoming student body each year is Pell-eligible.”

At ISU, there are many students “who are very bright, incredibly talented, very motivated, but unfortunately struggle to pay their bills,” he said. Some can’t finish their education because they don’t have the money.

That is one reason the ISU Foundation has begun raising funds for a “Bridge the Gap” need-based scholarship, which will help students when financial aid and family contributions don’t cover all their college costs.

During last week’s Give to Blue Day, the scholarship program, which will be implemented next fall, raised more than $100,000.

ISU has a committee that is looking at ways to improve enrollment numbers, which declined 5.3 percent last year and are projected to drop about 4 percent for fall 2019-20.

Keeping students in school

As part of its look at enrollment, ISU also is reviewing how it uses its scholarship money to meet its enrollment goals. Providing more need-based aid can help recruit students and help them stay in school and finish their degrees, he said.

Keeping students in school is one way to increase enrollment.

ISU’s 2018-19 general fund budget included a $15.2 million base budget for student scholarships and fee remissions as well as laptop scholarships, or about 7.8 percent of its overall budget, said Diann McKee, ISU senior vice president for finance and administration. 

ISU typically has increased its institutional financial aid by the amount of its tuition increase; with a projected 2 percent tuition increase for 2019-20 (yet to be approved), ISU’s financial aid dollars would increase by a similar amount, McKee said.

In recent years, due to enrollment growth (despite a downturn last year), more students have qualified for some of the merit awards, such as the laptop scholarship, which has provided free laptops to entering students who achieve a certain high school grade-point average.

Over the past decade, “There has been tremendous growth in awarding of the laptop scholarships, which reflects the quality of students we are attracting,” said Libby Roerig, ISU spokeswoman.

Starting next fall, it will be need-based serving first-time, degree-seeking students who are Pell-eligible. Called the Sycamore Technology Awards, it aims to ensure students have the technology they need to be successful.

Balance & mission

At the recent finance committee meeting, Curtis noted that scholarships for Illinois students assist with ISU’s headcount, but the state of Indiana only counts Hoosier students for performance funding measures and overall state funding.

“The state isn’t interested in those [Illinois] numbers,” she said.

“That’s not the end-all and be-all. It isn’t a reason to — or not to — recruit a student. But when talking about Indiana students who can do just as well but may have more need, wouldn’t that be a better use of our dollars?” she said.

She added, “We want Illinois students, we just want to make sure we’re balancing the aid we give them with the mission of the institution,” she said.

Seven out of 10 ISU students are from Indiana.

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