Price coming down for low-income students at UMKC

Saturday, July 19, 2014 | 5:17 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — The University of Missouri-Kansas City finally has some good news for its lowest-income students.

Its net price is coming down.

Net price is the cost of attendance — tuition, books, housing, food, transportation and personal expenses — minus the scholarships and grants a student qualifies for from the federal government and the university. It's the amount students and their families are expected to borrow or pay out of pocket.

In 2010-11, UMKC was one of the 10 most expensive public colleges in the country for students coming from households where the family income was $30,000 a year or less. Net price: $16,798.

The next year was worse: $18,111.

But newly released numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics show the average net price for in-state freshmen dropped 14 percent, to $15,522, in 2012-13. That's a difference of $2,589.

"What I'm pretty pleased with, even excited about, is the fact that students who have zero to $30,000 in family income are paying less," Jennifer DeHaemers, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management, told The Kansas City Star. And UMKC says it expects to provide more help in the future.

But even with the lower price, UMKC's low-income students on average pay more than their counterparts at the other University of Missouri System schools in Rolla, $11,127; Columbia, $12,731; and St. Louis, $9,757. UMKC's net price also remains higher than at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, $11,830; Kansas State University, $13,078; and the University of Kansas, $13,943.

The rising cost of college and pressure from the Obama administration to make college more affordable has many public colleges focused on lowering the cost for their students most in need.

It has taken three years for UMKC to see its efforts — a scholarship program that discounts the cost of tuition for low-income students, plus new endowed scholarships — work to lower its average net price.

"Our goal is to find more resources for need-based aid," DeHaemers said. "We have more need-based scholarships than we ever have had in the past."

But, she said, more are needed.

"That is the way to impact the net price for students," she said.

The school brought down its net price by making slight calculation adjustments that lowered the cost of attendance, while also giving out more need-based scholarships and continuing the Advantage Grant program that discounts the cost of tuition for Pell Grant-eligible, in-state undergraduates.

For the 2012-13 school year, UMKC awarded scholarships totaling almost $32 million to students from all income brackets.

The financial aid office also has seen an uptick in the number of low-income students who get their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in by March 1. Students who file forms for financial aid early are more likely to get need-based assistance from the school, DeHaemers said.

As at UMKC, net price for the lowest-income students also dropped on the university system's Rolla and St. Louis campuses.

But at MU in Columbia, that price has crept up a few hundred dollars each of the last two years.

"Our object is not to have the net price go down but to maintain a net price that stays fairly constant and affordable," said Nick Prewett, MU director of financial aid. Keeping tuition down helps slow the rise in net price.

As of 2013, tuition at Missouri's four-year universities had increased an average of 5 percent since 2008, the lowest in the nation. State law prohibits colleges and universities from imposing tuition increases greater than inflation.

Last year, University of Missouri System schools raised tuition 1.7 percent, but this year it will remain flat.

For the most part, the increase in net price at MU, Prewett said, is affected by larger enrollments that outpace increases in dollars available for need-based aid. Another factor is rising student costs of living that are not controlled by the university — transportation and off-campus housing, for example.

But the good news, Prewett said, is that "we are subsidizing students at a higher rate in 2012-2013 than we were in 2010-2011."

At UMKC, DeHaemers is expecting that next year may show another drop in net price for the lowest-income students. The school received a $175,000 matching grant from the university system that this fall will allow UMKC to dole out thousands of dollars more to low-income black and Latino students studying science, technology, engineering and math.

"It will be money they can use to cover expenses other than tuition," DeHaemers said. "That will help take the net price down."

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