Students pile up scholarships – and debt

This story was originally published in The Sylva Herald.

So far during the 2016-2017 academic year, Western Carolina University students have received almost $11 million in scholarships, but they – or their parents – borrowed almost $68 million in educational loans.

Additionally, student loan borrowers in the class of 2016 will graduate with an average $37,172 in student loan debt.

The numbers reported for the 2016-17 academic year will change as students take summer courses. The data won’t be final until the end of June.

Phil Cauley, Western Carolina University’s assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, presented the information June 1 at the WCU Board of Trustees meeting. Cauley filled in for Director of Financial Aid Trina Orr, who compiled the report.

Students received $6,294,939 in university scholarships during 2016-17, and about 49 percent ($3,098,410) of the money went to student athletes.

“This is all privately funded dollars. We can’t do anything for athletics with state dollars or tuition,” Chancellor David Belcher said.

The athletic scholarships are also partially funded by the mandatory athletic student fee, which costs $378 per student, per semester.

Athletic scholarships are based on talent and performance. Some of these endowments require a specific major, GPA, geographic residence or financial need. Award amounts for athletic scholarships ranged from $300 to $29,784.14 and 281 students out of 400 total athletes received those awards.

The state awarded $1,886,959 in scholarships and outside entities awarded $2,651,852.

In 2016-17, 1,880 students received 2,550 scholarships from WCU funding sources.

“There’s still a challenge meeting student need in terms of affordability,” Cauley said. “We try to stretch the dollars as far as we can. When you have a lot of students who are deserving for money, do you give a lot of money to a few, or do you give a less amount to more?”

WCU’s institutional scholarships are funded by: the Academic Scholarship Fund, $887,971.21; WCU Foundation endowments, $757,434.93; local tuition, $685,604.07; Endowment Fund, $335,079; campus services, $315,175; and annual or departmental contributions, $215,265.10.

Scholarships were awarded to students based on the following categories: general students, academic achievement, Founders Program and specialized programs such as athletics and New Century Scholars.

Per category, student athletes received more money than students in any other category. The total amount of funding given to each category includes: athletics, $3,098,409.60; Honors College, $1,164,800; general, $1,091,442.44; chancellor’s series, $327,375; Founders Program, $295,763.50; graduate students, $172,713.20; New Century Scholars, $101,327.57; and transfer students, $43,108.

The Founders Program scholarships are supported by local tuition and help fund students with a GPA of at least 3.0 and an exceptional financial need. New Century Scholars targets county seventh graders with “high potential.” If those students maintain certain academic and extracurricular requirements through high school, they receive scholarship money.

“We still have numbers of student athletes who don’t receive scholarships, and we have a lot of Honors College students who do not receive scholarships. We’ve made a dent in that and moved it up, but still have a lot of deserving students who aren’t receiving merit support or athletic support,” Cauley said.

As of May 8, $32,647 in scholarship funds was not awarded during the 2016-17 school year.

WCU is moving to a new scholarship management software, Next Gen Web Solutions, next year. The software will help address some of the problems with scholarship renewal, application deadlines and more, university officials say.