The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ 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 neediest students.

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.”

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 the University of Missouri 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 hikes 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 Kansas State, the net price for the neediest students has inched up each year for the last three years.

“There is no doubt we would like to see our net price for those students go down,” said Robert Gamez, associate director of student financial assistance.

But Gamez said the land-grant institution _ where 80 percent of students are Kansas residents and 1 in 4 undergraduate students is eligible for Pell Grants _ is challenged to lower the net price when shrinking state funding forces it to increase tuition every year.

Like UMKC, Kansas State hopes to attract more donors willing to put money toward supporting the neediest students.

“But from a fundraising perspective, it is challenging to raise dollars for need-based aid because a lot of donors focus on rewarding academic merit,” Gamez said. “We definitely have our work cut out for us.”

While many of these schools are focused on helping needy students pay for school, pressure is also on to increase graduation and retention rates along with enrollments and diversity on campus.

To that end, starting in 2012, the University of Kansas began a tuition reduction program similar to the one at UMKC for Pell Grant-eligible in-state students. The difference between the two schools’ programs is that UMKC based its program purely on need. KU imposed academic standards requiring qualifying students to have at least a 3.25 GPA and an ACT of 22 or an SAT of 1020.

The University of Kansas shifted the focus of its scholarship dollars from solely access to merit, said Matt Melvin, vice provost for enrollment management. He said the university decided not to reach into its wallet for students with lots of need but little academic preparation to be successful.

That shift, in addition to increases in tuition and reduction in state support, has resulted in a net price for students in the lowest income bracket climbing from $10,906 in the 2010-11 school year to $13,943 for 2012-13.

“Our goal is not just to enroll students but to graduate students,” Melvin said.

Melvin said public colleges and universities are “constantly in the nexus of balancing prestige, access and success. And there are not enough dollars to go around.”

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.”


Information from: The Kansas City Star,