|Breaking Open the Word|
|World & Nation|
October 1, 2008
Catholic higher education not just for wealthy, say school officials
By Franz Klein
LA CROSSE, Wis. (CNS)—A myth persists that Catholic higher education is only for the wealthy and that public colleges and universities are the sole option for students coming from middle-and low-income families.
“There’s this conception that only rich people can afford a private school,” said Terry Norman, director of financial aid at Viterbo University in La Crosse, founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. “But the average student here comes from a family that makes around $60,000 a year.”
It’s Norman’s job to make Viterbo’s price tag—$19,490 for tuition, plus room and board—affordable for as many families as possible.
“Our goal is to make Viterbo no more expensive than a public university,” Norman told The Catholic Times, newspaper of the La Crosse Diocese. “We can’t always make it happen, but we try.”
According to Norman, the debt accumulated by 2007 Viterbo graduates over their four or five years of study averages $18,000. “At first that seems like a lot, but that’s still less than the price of a new car,” she said, “and the students leave here with something that’s going to last them a lifetime.”
The journey begins in the admissions office when a student submits a Federal Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is used to determine financial need and eligibility for federally subsidized grants and loans. There, students also are considered for merit-based scholarships before the financial aid office works to put together aid packages.
According to Tony Piscitiello, vice president for admissions at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., the process gives schools a way to determine how much a student and his or her family will be able to contribute.
Both Viterbo and St. Mary’s, run by the Christian Brothers, also take into consideration the tuition families are paying to send other family members to Catholic high schools. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., also weighs in home-schooling expenses and unique family medical situations.
“We use the FAFSA, but we make a lot of adjustments to give it more heart to accommodate families,” said Greg Becker, director of financial aid at Thomas Aquinas, an independent Catholic liberal arts college.
Like Viterbo and St. Mary’s, Thomas Aquinas tries to make college affordable. However, the school’s small size—currently 371 students—allows for a more personal approach to meeting its $19,300 tuition plus room and board. Becker works with students to come up with a minimum family contribution and a minimum student contribution.
“We actually ask families, ‘What do you propose that you can pay for college?’” Becker said, noting that nearly 50 percent of parents contribute more than the need-based calculation requires. “We’re leaving room for the Holy Spirit to move parents to generosity,” he added.
After students have taken an on-campus job and borrowed an average of $3,750 per year, Becker said Thomas Aquinas makes up the difference through its endowment and the generosity of its benefactors.
“We ask families to make a maximum effort to do what they can, but if they make that maximum effort, we, too, are willing to put our shoulder to the wheel and provide aid to make it possible for a student to attend,” he said.
At comparatively larger schools such as Viterbo and St. Mary’s, it’s not always possible to tailor a financial aid package quite so personally. But Piscitiello said St. Mary’s works with its students to achieve the best balance of grants and borrowing.
One of St. Mary’s newest initiatives is the Brother James Miller Scholarship for Access. The scholarship caps St. Mary’s total charge for tuition and fees at $18,000 for students whose families have an income of $75,000 or less and who maintained at least a B average in high school.
“It cost us more money, but it was a message our benefactors were willing to hear, because we’re bringing money to the students who need it,” Piscitiello said.
|Local Catholic Schools|
|Regis University, 3333 Regis Blvd., Denver
Financial Aid: Human Resources, 303-458-4161
Augustine Institute, 3001 S. Federal Blvd., Denver
Financial Aid: Lynda Fitzsimmons, 303-937-4420