When scholarship and financial aid letters are mailed out to the class of 2018, fewer students will receive merit awards.
Vice President of Admission and Financial Aid Dan Meyer said Wednesday that the University has increased the threshold to be considered for a merit scholarship. Whereas last year incoming first-year students needed to have a 3.2 grade point average and a score of 22 on the ACT to receive merit scholarships, incoming first-years must have a grade point average of 3.5 or an ACT score of 25.
"We're just making it mean something to receive a merit award from DePauw," Meyer said. "When everyone's getting a merit award, it's not meritorious."
The plan, headed by Meyer and Director of Admissions Dani Weatherford, is expected to increase the perceived value of DePauw, according to Meyer.
"It rewards students for working hard [in high school]," Meyer said.
According to market research done by DePauw University, the average merit award for a DePauw student exceeds awards from many similar institutions. Meyer insists, however, that the University is trying to accomplish much more. The plan, he said, was not made based solely on University finances, but it is aimed at strengthening the overall student profile.
He believes the change will lower the number of admitted students at DePauw while keeping class sizes at or near current levels. Meyer says that, based on internal research, students with lower GPAs and SAT or ACT scores in high school tend to struggle academically at DePauw. He hopes that this new initiative will strengthen the overall academic profile of the University.
"You make these types of changes from a position of strength," Meyer said. "DePauw's applicant pool and our freshman class numbers have been increasing. Now is the time to right some weaknesses we've had in our recruitment area for the last ten to fifteen years."
The changes don't stop with merit awards.
While DePauw has admitted 60 percent of its applicants for years, this year the University has opted to decrease acceptances to 56 percent.
As of last Thursday, the Office of Admission has received about 5,265 applications, nearly a four percent increase over last year's number. Meyer said the Office of Admission will accept 150 to 200 students less to the class of 2018 than it accepted to the class of 2017.
"Three thousand is the magic number. That's about the maximum number of admits that we can have," Meyer said. "Right now we're at about 2,920 so there are about 80 spots left."
He explains that, following this year's admission cycle, the rate is expected to drop to below 50 percent. He believes the change will continue to bring students to DePauw who will succeed and increase the University's overall academic profile.
The decision to reduce the acceptance rate and to elevate the grade point average minimum to receive merit scholarships came as part of University President Brian Casey's decision along with the board of trustees to make DePauw more competitive with institutions like Carleton College (Northfield, Minn.) and Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio). Tuition will also increase by five percent next year to $42,756 not including room, board and fees.
Not everyone believes the proposed change will produce benefits for DePauw long-term. Director of College Counseling at University High School in Carmel, Ind., James P. Fadely, believes the policy update will steer his students away from DePauw in comparison to similar institutions. Furthermore, he expressed his concern in regards to making DePauw unaffordable to students he believes could be a good fit.
First-year Sydney Jordan offers a similar perspective.
"There are students who need more than financial aid to make committing to DePauw possible," she said. "Merit scholarships can help bridge the gap. I wouldn't have been able to come to DePauw without the merit scholarship I received."
Despite the criticism, Meyer believes the changes should take place now.
"Now's the time to say we're a better and stronger University than what we're seeing with our current aid packages," he said.
Several University officials, including President Brian Casey and Vice President for Academic Affairs Larry Stimpert, along with the board of trustees, endorsed the changes earlier this month.
The Office of Admission plans to change the overall admissions calendar starting for the class of 2019, according to Meyer. He said that DePauw plans to move to a precipice admissions policy that notifies students of both acceptance and financial aid and merit packages in the same letter.
Meyer wants both current and prospective students to understand that, despite these changes, DePauw's merit aid will not disappear.
"DePauw will always have a merit scholarship program," he said, "but we will probably continue to increase the requirements as our student academic profile increases."