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Meotti Asks Private Colleges To Hold Off On State-Funded Scholarships For New Students

For at least one college, the request comes too late

Kathleen Megan

March 15, 2011

The state's higher education commissioner has asked private colleges to award state scholarship money for the coming year only to students who already receive it, but at least one college financial aid officer says the request is too late.

In a letter last week to private college presidents, Commissioner Michael P. Meotti said that current recipients of the need-based grants should not be cut as a result of the governor's proposed budget cutbacks. But he said that state grants should not be awarded to new students.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed reducing the state-funded $23.4 million Connecticut Independent College Student Grant Program by 25 percent next year and 50 percent the following year. Meotti said the "proposed moratorium" on the program would save the state $12 million.

"As your institution embarks on issuing award letters to students," Meotti wrote in his letter, "it is important to note that the Governor's proposal provides funding to all students who currently receive a … grant to continue to receive that award over the next two years."

Dominic Yoia, senior director of financial aid at Quinnipiac University, said Meotti's request came too late.

"The barn door is already open," Yoia said. "We've awarded [financial aid to] more than half of our incoming freshmen prior to getting this request. It's a little late."

The first batch of financial aid award packages went out on Feb. 16 to 4,000 students, Yoia said. At Quinnipiac, 541 students received aid through the state-funded program last year, averaging about $5,058 for each recipient.

In all, about 6,000 students at private colleges in Connecticut receive an average of $3,830 a year through the state program.

Yoia said that many sources of financial aid are in question this year, including Pell Grants, and the university couldn't delay awarding financial aid until all of the questions were resolved.

"You've got a class to bring in," Yoia said, "and they expect to get an award letter on time, and that's how the process works."

Yoia said the proposal to protect current recipients "takes it out of the hide of freshmen …. On paper, it looks wonderful, but in reality it's detrimental to the entire population."

Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said that the private colleges are in the midst of reviewing Meotti's letter and will respond this week.

She said college officials hope to work matters out so they can "manage the cut in the way that we always have in the past when the program has been cut… We want to make sure the money is being used the most effectively for our neediest students."

Greiman said the colleges want to be able to adjust the awards to accommodate the "changing circumstances for some students."

It was unclear to some college officials whether Meotti's letter was a mandate or a strong suggestion. Yoia said he thought it was "a request."

Constance Fraser, spokeswoman for the state higher education department, said the letter offered "strong guidance." Fraser said the intent of the letter was to advise student financial aid officers of "the very real possibility of the bill passing."

Fraser said it is her understanding that if the bill passes, it will contain language that says "the proposed moratorium" will not affect current recipients of the grants.

"The intent is that students not be harmed," Fraser said, and that colleges not "end up violating the law if the new statute is passed."

Bill Mangini, Goodwin College's director of financial aid, said that he and his colleagues aren't sure whether Meotti's request is a mandate or a suggestion.

"If it's a mandate we will obviously comply," Mangini said. "If it's not a mandate, we will be cautious and we will probably hold off awarding [the grants] to brand-new students."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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