But what about this year? The economy is still in a funk and families need just as much help in 2010. While colleges are continuing to trim their budgets in many areas, it looks like they will once again dig deeper to generate more financial aid dollars for families.
I asked Jonathan Epstein, a senior consultant at Maguire Associates, a high-ed consulting firm, to elaborate on his firm's recent paper, The State of the Enrollment Market: Where Are We Now and What Does it Mean?
Here are the highlights:
1. Admission applications are up. Since the last admission cycle, applications are up roughly 5% to 10% across the country among both private and state colleges and universities. Here's the reason for the increase: more students are sending out more applications.
2. Families are focusing on financial aid. Students are applying to extra colleges because they want to reel in the best financial aid packages. They are looking for quality schools with the best aid awards and they assume applying to more colleges will produce better news.
3. Colleges will continue to dig deeper. Colleges have continued to slash their budgets, but financial aid appears sacrosanct for this year. It looks like schools will continue to funnel more money into their financial aid budgets. Some schools with extra capacity will help defray this cost by increasing the slots in their freshmen class.
At the same time, there are signs that some elite institutions, which offer the most generous financial aid packages in the land, might be caving on their commitment to provide no-loan financial aid packages. Dartmouth and Williams College have pulled back.
4, Demographics are cresting. The good news is that the number of high school seniors peaked last year. The number of high school seniors will drop about 200,000 until 2013 or 2014 when the number of teens begins climbing again primarily because of the Hispanic population.
5. Endowments and donor contributions have slumped. Endowments cratered during 2009. Harvard, for instance, lost more than $5 billion in its endowment, which was more than double the losses of all other Massachusetts colleges and universities combined. Donor contributions to colleges and universities last year dropped nearly 12%, which is the biggest decline since the Council for Aid to Education began keeping tabs in 1969.