Known as the 568 Presidents' Working Group, the two-year-old organization seeks technical improvements in need analysis that will bring greater clarity, simplicity and fairness to the process of assessing each family's ability to pay for college.
The group's name is derived from Section 568 of the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, which permits institutions practicing need-blind admission to establish common principles of financial aid. Among the group's members are Cornell, Duke, Yale and Stanford universities, the universities of Notre Dame and Pennsylvania, and Amherst, Dartmouth, Middlebury and Wellesley colleges.
"We are honored to be a member of this group," said Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us to work on the public policy issues involved in financial aid."
Earlier this month, the group announced an agreement on new guidelines for determining who is eligible for financial aid. The guidelines, bucking a current trend in which aid is awarded to the most desirable students rather than just the neediest, are likely to result in larger scholarships, with increases of several hundred dollars to more than $1,500 for many students. All of the institutions agreed that they would not reduce their total aid, although some students might receive less.
The 568 Group guidelines, which are expected to take a year or more to implement, call for institutions to consider the higher cost of living in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC, and to make allowances for parents who are not covered in retirement programs.
Under the guidelines, colleges and universities will not expect families to contribute a larger share of money in tax-advantaged college savings accounts than they do of other family assets. Institutions will consider only home equity that does not exceed 2.4 times the family income, thereby protecting moderate-income families who have seen their home values increase dramatically. In cases of prospective students whose parents are divorced or separated, universities will try to learn more about the financial status of parents and stepparents but include only two - rather than three or four - when figuring a student's ability to pay.
Administrators in the 568 Group said that while some institutions already use these approaches, the guidelines would bring greater consistency among financial aid offers.
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