Grants to replace loans for low-income students

Starting next fall, Columbia will issue grants instead of loans to Columbia College and engineering undergraduates whose families earn less than $50,000 a year in an effort to minimize college debt for students with the least ability to pay. The policy, which is similar to new financial-aid initiatives at several Ivy League schools, will apply to all eligible students attending next year, adding about $3.5 million to Columbia’s annual aid expenditures. Columbia currently spends about $55 million annually on need-based grants for students at the College and at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The new initiative will be paid with current funds and future gifts.

The policy is designed to protect the socioeconomic diversity of Columbia’s student body, University officials say, as well as to ensure that low-income students are not limited in their postgraduate options by the need to repay excessively burdensome loans. Columbia, despite being one of the most expensive universities in the nation, historically has attracted a relatively large number of low-income students. The percentage of Columbia students who receive Pell grants, for example, is the highest in the Ivy League; such grants are available generally to students from families that earn less than $40,000 a year.

“While full tuition and fees cover only about half the real cost [of attending Columbia], we understand that the price remains dauntingly high to most families,” says President Lee Bollinger. “That is why it is so essential for us to continue expanding our commitment to financial aid that ensures any qualified student can afford to come to Columbia. The replacement of loans with grants for more students is another step in the right direction.”