Requests rise for financial aid, but federal grants and tax breaks will help many families
Western Washington University’s Financial Aid Department is busier than ever helping students and families piece together the funds they need to send their students to college.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to provide access to students and keep them in school,” says Clara Capron, Western’s director of financial aid.
Financial Aid by the numbers
$619 Expected increase in the federal Pell Grant, available to help low- and moderate-income families pay for college.
$700 Expected increase in the federal higher education tax credit.
4 Number of years families will be able to receive the federal higher education tax credit, up from two years.
$159,000 New maximum household income for families receiving the full federal higher education tax credit.
Prospective freshmen filed 20 percent more FAFSA forms than last year’s incoming freshmen class, Capron says. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a critical first step in applying for any financial assistance for college. Meanwhile, she adds, requests to recalculate Western’s financial aid packages are up 30 percent this year.
“Financial Aid staff members have been very busy working one-on-one with students and parents to document circumstances and revise aid offers long after the beginning of the academic year,” Capron says.
But while Capron knows demand for aid is up, she doesn’t yet know if the amount of aid available will keep pace.
Endowment-funded scholarships, which account for about 12 percent of the total scholarships disbursed to Western students, will likely decline because of investment losses.
But endowed scholarships are only a small portion of the total aid available to Western students. Last year, 8,652 Western students received about $90 million in aid, including institutional grants and tuition waivers.
Tuition rates are not yet set and federal and state funding is still being worked out. So Capron doesn’t yet know the full outlook for financial aid.
But she does have good news:
- Federal Pell Grant funding will provide a maximum of $5,350 this year, up $619 over the previous year’s maximum grant.
- The new American Opportunity Tax Credit, which replaces the Hope Scholarship tax credit for 2009 and 2010, has gone up from $1,800 to $2,500, providing tuition-paying families a healthier tax break.
- The expected increases in the Pell Grant and federal tax credit will likely cover tuition increases, Capron says.
- More families will also be eligible for a Pell Grant next year, Capron says, because the “expected family contribution” amount has been raised from $4,041 to $4,617.
Capron also recommends families file a FAFSA for 2009-10 if they haven’t already. The priority deadline has passed, but it’s still worth doing: Some aid programs don’t run out and other funding usually becomes available during the school year, she says.
“We have always felt needed and privileged to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of students and their families,” Capron says, “but even more so now, given the economic challenges that so many are experiencing.”