Cecilia Castellano ’90, ’92 is vice president of enrollment management and leads the University’s enrollment and recruitment efforts for undergraduate and graduate students. Her division works closely with current and prospective students, and as a result, she has a comprehensive understanding of the obstacles that arise for students. Castellano is an advocate to secure scholarships for students who are unable to fund the “gap” between BGSU’s tuition cost and the amount of financial aid they receive. She’s seen otherwise college-ready students abandon their dreams because of significant financial barriers, now magnified by the pandemic.
How has BGSU’s enrollment fared during such a challenging year?
This fall, BGSU announced its highest enrollment in more than a decade – 20,232 students, up 1.6% from fall 2019 – and the highest retention rate of students in the University’s history. This included a 20% overall growth in graduate enrollment, and significant growth in the graduate professional master’s programs through our eCampus. Yet, these numbers could have been higher, if more students had financial support to close the gap.
As expected, the fall 2020 class of entering freshmen was down by 7%, mainly due to the economic fallout from COVID-19, and our peer institutions experienced significantly larger declines in entering freshman enrollment across the state. Particularly alarming is the loss of enrollment from new students who are considered Pell-eligible. These grants only cover a portion of tuition, and many students walked away because their families had to choose between the pursuit of higher education or funding the necessities of life.
How do gap scholarships make a difference for students?
At BGSU, approximately 82% of our students receive some type of financial aid. The vast majority is from federal financial aid, in the form of grants and loans, and some state of Ohio aid for high-need students. Even for students who receive the maximum amount of federal or state aid, there is almost always a financial gap between the amount awarded and the cost of attendance. The average gap for a BGSU first-year student is approximately $12,000.
Gap scholarships make the difference in a student’s ability to attend BGSU and continue their education to complete a degree. Every year, I have the privilege of leading my team in selecting students to receive gap scholarships to pursue their college degree goals. Although many students are helped, the challenge to fund all of these scholarship requests could be supported through additional charitable scholarship contributions.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the need for gap scholarships and scholarships in general?
The loss of income and continued economic challenges caused by the pandemic has widened the gap for students. Our Pell-eligible students have incredible experiences in and out of the classroom and need that extra financial support to experience the power of a BGSU education. I have seen the power of a BGSU degree in my own life, the lives of my children and in those of countless students. The most heartbreaking and concerning part of my job is working with students who have incredible talent and ability, but limited financial means, who are not able to fill the financial gap during this pandemic.
Gap scholarships make all the difference, and the need is growing larger as the pandemic and economic uncertainty continues. The No. 1 concern of families for fall 2021 enrollment is how they will pay for the cost of a degree. I am encouraged that our current gap scholarship funding can help some of them, but additional support is critically needed to help these students realize their dreams of a BGSU education.
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