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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Students in need are blinded by financial aid process

By Thresher Editorial Board     2/27/24 10:16pm

Rice reached a $33.75 million settlement on Feb. 23 in the financial aid “cartel” lawsuit that alleged Rice, as well as 16 other peer institutions, unfairly limited aid for students at need-blind universities. Nine other universities have also settled in the case. 

Rice maintains that it has provided the necessary financial aid for students and did not collude to decrease aid. But with tuition set to increase by 4.5% for continuing students and 9.9% for matriculating students, simply providing aid may not be enough. Rice must be more transparent about exactly how financial aid is calculated so that students can better advocate for their needs.

In recent years, Rice has endeavored to expand its financial aid policies with varied results. The Rice Investment, launched for the 2019-2020 school year, granted an additional $7 million in aid, Vice President for Enrollment Yvonne Romero da Silva told the Thresher at the time. However, international students are not eligible to apply and information about inflation increase over time is not given on the Rice Investment website. For eligible students, the program has been deemed a success, but not all students are eligible and the amount of aid they may receive can be unclear.

75% of Rice graduates are debt-free, with an average federal student loan debt of $13,460, according to The Rice Investment’s 2021 Impact Report. Rice touts itself as meeting 100% of demonstrated need. Despite this, Thresher reporting last semester showed that some low-income students struggle to receive the money they were promised, demonstrating a greater need for transparency in not only how financial aid packages are disbursed, but also how they adequately address socio-economic gaps. As wages across the country remain stagnant while inflation rises, it’s critical that Rice shares the extent to which the The Rice Investment has actually increased in response to inflation and pledges to match increases in tuition accordingly. 

Beyond increased transparency, there are other ways that Rice can expand the financial aid that it provides. Although Rice is considered a need-blind university, this policy does not apply to the majority of international students, who make up 13% of the class of 2027. Brown University announced in January that it would extend its need-blind admissions policy to international students. Other universities such as Dartmouth and Yale are also need-blind for international students. By following their lead, Rice could increase global diversity and make enrollment more accessible to students who may not be able to afford a total cost of attendance that now exceeds $80,000.

Whether or not these universities have actually limited aid to deserving students, need-blind aid policies as they are currently applied seem to be more blind to students than they are to administrators, particularly at elite private colleges like those included in the lawsuit. 57% of Rice undergraduates receive financial aid, so the majority of students are reliant on receiving some or all of their tuition from the university with little recourse if something goes wrong. As with last semester, students feel that they are still being left in the dark by an unresponsive, secretive institution while their concerns for theirs and their family’s finances steadily loom.  

Like our peers at the Brown Daily Herald and the Emory Wheel, we encourage the Rice administration to do more to make higher education accessible and to be transparent about financial aid. Tuition continues to rise disproportionately compared to inflation and thus to the aid given by The Rice Investment. International students, undocumented students and many others are too easily left behind by the current system of financial aid distribution. Students deserve to know why they are granted the money that they get and receive adjustments if they feel that it is insufficient to cover the costs of a highly selective university like Rice. Continuing to disburse financial aid in a closed-off and out-of-touch manner will only serve to limit opportunities for students and diminish their trust in Rice’s institutions. 

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Prayag Gordy, Riya Misra, Nayeli Shad, Brandon Chen, Sammy Baek, Sarah Knowlton, Hadley Medlock and Pavithr Goli. Editor-in-chief Prayag Gordy recused himself from this editorial due to corresponding reporting in the news section.

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