In order to better understand how Utah students are paying for college, a new analysis by the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) looks at the gift aid received by in-state, undergraduate students during the 2014 academic year. “Gift aid” is defined as funding for students that does not need to be repaid, such as scholarships and grants. Of these 131,336 in-state, undergraduate students, 61% received some form of gift aid during the 2014 academic year.
These 79,779 USHE students received over $288 million in gift aid, an average of $3,614 per student. This amount is higher than the total student loan dollars received by these same USHE students. Of the gift aid received, 68% was from the federal government. State gift aid (including the Regents’ Scholarship) comprised 2.24% of aid received.
Total gift aid received by source (2014)
The data also estimates the amount of tuition and fees covered by gift aid. For this analysis, “unmet need” is the amount of tuition and fees remaining after gift aid received.
It’s important to note that tuition and fees are not the only expenses associated with attending college. Other significant expenses include books/course materials, room and board, and transportation. Because of these expenses, the true cost to attend college varies widely and depends heavily on individual circumstances. However, tuition and fees are a consistent, albeit incomplete, measure of college expenses.
Individuals can estimate the net price of attending college customized to individual circumstances and a specific institution with the Net Price Calculator.
Does course load matter?
Students who received gift aid and took more credits had the least amount of unmet need. Last year, half of the students who received gift aid were enrolled full-time (~12 credits/semester or more). Their unmet need was $359, below the overall average of $474. Conversely, 65% of students who DID NOT receive gift aid were enrolled part-time (~7.5 credits/semester or fewer). Their unmet need was $1,834—almost six times that of those who received aid and enrolled full-time.
Even though students who didn’t receive aid took fewer credits (hence, paid less tuition), they still had a greater unmet need than those who took a heavier courseload and received aid. This is partly due to the financial benefits of plateau tuition.
Gift aid can be a significant factor in helping students earn a college degree
Forty-six percent of students who enrolled full-time and received gift aid had all of their tuition and fees covered. A significant factor is Utah’s relatively low tuition, a direct result of the continued support of the Legislature and Governor prioritizing funding for public higher education in Utah (arguably another unmeasured form of state aid).
Despite the considerable amount of gift aid helping Utah college students, Utah still lags the nation in taking advantage of gift aid opportunities. In fact, in 2013, high school grads left an estimated $45.5 million in Pell Grants on the table.