A higher education official from Wisconsin who attended the recent Council of Independent Colleges conference in Florida made a remarkable statement during a question-and-answer session.
There is a group of students who enter college with such dire financial need that the amount the federal government expects their families to contribute to college is effectively zero. In Wisconsin, that zero-pay population has grown by half in a single year: from 42,641 students in the 2008-09 academic year to 65,800 in 2009-10.
The data come from Rolf Wegenke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and surely they mirror a national trend.
Incoming college students have grown markedly more needy since the 2008 economic downturn.
“The precipitous increase in student need represents a genuine crisis for these students and their families—a crisis which is replicated across the country,” said Wegenke.
It’s also a crisis for colleges. The federal government, through its Free Application for Federal Student Aid, has determined that many more students bound for Wisconsin colleges should have their expenses covered entirely through aid: Their “expected family contribution” is zero. But the federal government doesn’t stipulate where that aid will come from.