Survey: Students With Full Scholarships Still Pay Money to Colleges

A new study has revealed that there may be no such thing as getting a full ride to college, as some colleges demand additional payments from students who are awarded full scholarships.

The National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA), a nonprofit that represents scholarship providers, said that it surveyed 61 colleges and found that roughly 10 colleges charged students money in excess of their scholarships.

The report, released in September, shows that some colleges take back or reduce their own aid offering for a student who gets private scholarships, writes AnnaMaria Andriotis in Market Watch. Also, some colleges demand students to pay a portion of the college bill out of their own pockets even if aid is enough to cover every penny of financial need.

Nationwide, that figure is likely much higher: Data compiled for MarketWatch confirms that more than 36 colleges nationwide—including elite private and large public institutions—require students to make some payment toward their education costs. This is true even when outside groups award full need-based private scholarships, according to the United Negro College Fund, which administers the Gates Millennium Scholars program that provides scholarships to low-income college students.

The practice of charging extra money, which has been around for years, severely affects students from lower-income families. Researchers believe that these new figures will help to quantify how widespread this issue is.

In actuality, many colleges’ policies would not allow scholarships to lower students’ out-of-pocket expenses, and they effectively penalize students who are not wealthy.

Many colleges require students to pay a portion of their annual college costs and do not accept any type of need-based financial aid for that amount, no matter how poor the student is. College administrators seem to believe that if students are required to pay even a small amount, they will theoretically be more engaged in their studies.

Amherst College, Columbia University, Duke University, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, Vanderbilt University, Wesleyan University, and Williams College require all students to contribute at least a certain amount toward their college costs. The payment, referred to as a minimum student contribution, is a flat amount typically between $1,500 and $4,000 a year.

The College Board also encourages schools to charge students. For years, the Board has suggested a minimum student contribution and specified a recommended dollar amount for many colleges to charge. According to a College Board spokeswoman, schools are free to decide whether to implement it, whether they will permit private scholarships to cover it, and if they want to reduce these amounts for lower-income students.

The policy is a major hardship for students who can barely earn this amount or who do not have family to help them cover this cost. When students cannot pay, many colleges suggest they sign up for student loans.

Some colleges said they ask students to pay a portion of their annual college costs because of the way they determine financial need. Generally, colleges review a family’s finances to determine how much they will be required to pay out-of-pocket for their child’s college expenses, an amount referred to as the ‘expected family contribution.’ The methodology will determine if a family has eligible assets and additional financial resources that will increase the family’s contribution or mandate a required payment from the student — or do both.

In addition, the NSPA report outlines how colleges treat outside scholarships when they have already given their students free aid. The report said that many colleges will take back the aid they offer students who end up receiving an outside need-based scholarship.

In some cases, it is a dollar-for-dollar reduction that equals the amount of the scholarship. So students who get a $5,000 private scholarship could end up losing $5,000 in free aid that a college has offered them, which would leave them with the same out-of-pocket costs that they had before they received the scholarship. For students, these policies call into question whether the legwork of searching and applying for a scholarship is worth it.