Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, William & Mary will guarantee scholarship aid to cover at least the cost of tuition and fees for all in-state, undergraduate Pell Grant eligible students, President Katherine A. Rowe told the Board of Visitors Friday.

The new program will apply to all in-state undergraduate students enrolled at W&M in fall 2023, including new, returning, first-year and transfer students. While ambitious, Rowe told the board, the goal is to increase the percentage of in-state undergraduates who are Pell Grant eligible to 20% in four years. 

“This program will ensure William & Mary can continue to recruit the best and brightest, without regards to family means. It marks a key milestone in our continued efforts to increase access and affordability for all of our community,” Rowe said. “William & Mary is strongly committed to our current and future Pell Grant recipients and supporting them on their paths as scholars and professionals.”

Pell Grants are determined by the federal government through the U.S. Department of Education, and eligibility is determined largely based on income as reported through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to Department of Education data, in 2019-2020, more than 93% of Pell Grant recipients came from families earning less than $60,000 per year. Nearly half of all first generation college students receive Pell Grants.

Under the plan, qualifying students will automatically receive the additional scholarship funding to cover total tuition and fees costs. Additionally, Pell-eligible students with demonstrated financial need beyond tuition and fees (as determined through the FAFSA and CSS Profile) will receive additional grant or scholarship assistance from W&M to meet that need. 

This effort supports the university’s strategic goals to expand William & Mary’s reach to non-traditional students and educate for impact, Rowe said. That impact is seen in the university’s Pell Grant recipient graduation rates, consistently at or above the 90th percentile and among the best in the nation for leading public universities. 

“This is a minimum, not a maximum guarantee,” Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe said. “The program announced today is part of a broad commitment to increase socio-economic diversity across campus and to continue supporting our students with financial need.” 

Currently about 17% of William & Mary’s in-state students are Pell Grant recipients, up from 15% just six years ago. Though William & Mary’s current percentage of in-state, undergraduate Pell recipients is comparable to overall rates at national peer institutions, the university is committed to increasing them.

“We can’t rest on our progress,” Rowe added. “For the past decade, William & Mary has been working to increase need-based resources — scholarship funding was a top priority of the university’s recently completed For the Bold campaign. We aim to continue this trend moving forward.”

Since 2011, more than $350 million has been raised by the university to support scholarships alone.

Fiscal impact/budget impact

Funding for the first year of the new program is available in the existing budget, Rowe told the board.

For subsequent years, based on recent student data and enrollment rates, the cost estimate is $180,000 per year for the following three years. Beyond that, she said, the fiscal impact was harder to predict. 

Currently, the average in-state Pell recipient at W&M receives $28,000 in university grant support beyond their federal Pell Grant award. Based on that average, each 3% increase in enrolled federal Pell Grant eligible students would represent an additional $1.2 million annual funding need per class. 

Overall affordability

William & Mary’s commitment to affordability and access extends beyond those eligible to receive Federal Pell Grant assistance. Among the stated goals in the university’s Six-Year Plan is a commitment to ensuring “that a William & Mary education remains affordable for low- and middle-income Virginia families.”

“In addition to covering tuition and fees of our in-state Pell Grant recipients, the university also aims to meet 100% of demonstrated need for all in-state students through grants and scholarships, along with limited loans and work-study opportunities,” said Financial Aid Director Joe Dobrota.  

Providing financial assistance extends to out-of-state students as well, including need-based grant or scholarship assistance of up to $20,000 a year for qualifying students. 

Other efforts toward access and affordability include an application fee waiver program for all Pell-eligible students, the Promise Scholars program which offers scholarship funding, guaranteed first-year housing, mentorship and other supports for high-ability, low-income transfer students from Richard Bland College and the university’s partnership with the Posse Foundation. 

Academic year 2022-2023 is also the fifth year in a row that the university has held tuition flat for all in-state undergraduate students, and William & Mary continues to have the lowest net average price for Virginia families with an income less than $110,000 annually among public universities in the Commonwealth.

“We hope that leveraging this funding commitment across our financial aid programs takes the guesswork out of determining the financial equations for our prospective students, their families and their guidance counselors,” said Wolfe. “And that they, and our own campus community, hear clearly the commitment that William & Mary has to affordability broadly and Pell Grant recipients specifically.”

, University News & Media