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An Inside Look at Simpson College, Where 100 Percent of Students Receive Grants and Scholarships

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“We have a very robust financial aid program that reaches across our entire enrolling population,” says Tracie Pavon, assistant vice president for enrollment and financial assistance at Simpson College, just south of Des Moines, Iowa. “My goal is to make it affordable for everyone. We know that realistically some students won’t be able to afford it, but many families, after looking a little further, see that we’re very much in their reach.”


At Simpson, 100 percent of the student population receives grants and scholarships, with $27 million in financial assistance awarded each year. Additionally, the college recently introduced The Simpson Promise scholarship program for qualified freshmen.


Edmit spoke with Pavon and Deb Tierney, vice president for enrollment, to learn more about Simpson’s dedication to making college affordable.


Edmit: Tell us about the Simpson Promise program—when was it established and what percentage of students does it go to?


Pavon: Every year, we look at our financial aid packaging, to see who we enrolled. We came to realize pretty quickly our data was supporting that Iowa students with adjusted gross income earnings under $60,000 were not enrolling in the same patterns that they used to. There was a significant drop. The average median income in Iowa is around $54,000 per year, so we knew that these students were not looking much beyond our price tag. We really wanted to recapture [these students], we really wanted to take care of these Iowa students first.


As far as how many students will be eligible, this is our first year, so we won’t know until fall of ‘18. At Simpson, we currently enroll about a fourth of our Iowa students from that income range. It used to be higher than that, so we are hoping to recapture that [group].


Tierney: This is a group that we have historically served very well. This is not a new group; this is a group that has had access to a Simpson education for generations.


Edmit: If a student does not qualify for the Simpson Promise program, many other freshman-year financial aid options are available. Could you tell me a little more about those alternatives?


Pavon: 100 percent of our students receive institutional financial assistance from the college. We do have a scholarship grid on our website that spells out very clearly the levels of scholarships. We have three levels for incoming freshmen...and we have talent-based scholarships that are layered on top of that, for example, [in] the fine arts. We also have scholarships for legacy students and students who have multiple dependents enrolled at  Simpson at the same time—siblings. We have special elite scholarships as well that students compete for and a Scholarship Day where our top-notch students come in and compete for additional [scholarship money].


On Scholarship Day, incoming freshmen will come to campus and interview with a small group consisting of faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni. They will also write an essay in one of our computer labs; the essays are scored externally and the interviews are scored by those who interviewed that student. Based on that data additional scholarships are awarded.


Edmit: What types of financial aid options are available for non-freshmen students?


Pavon: Everybody is reviewed as an incoming freshman or transfer student when they come in,  and our commitment at Simpson remains our commitment to that student. If a student was eligible for $25,000 in grant/scholarship aid, and their family income increases in subsequent years, we do not pull that $25,000 commitment.


In addition, we have a scholarship website where we post external scholarships, different leadership scholarships, and endowed scholarships that are available. We are affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and we have a lot of great students who apply for the United Methodist Foundation scholarship.


Edmit: Do students typically see more expensive bills after their freshman year? If so, how does the financial aid office work with families to ensure Simpson is still a good financial fit?


Pavon: Of course, our tuition and fees will go up each year. Typically we have a 4 to 4 ½ percent increase; we are trying very hard to keep increases minimal for students. We’re small, so it is not uncommon for me to see a student if they’re having difficulty absorbing [the increase] or their circumstances have changed in some way that is impacting their ability to afford college. And because we are small, we are really able to sit down and help them figure out options. But our students know when they come in that they will absorb the [annual] increase, otherwise no, there’s not big changes in their financial aid. Very little, actually.


Edmit: How does Simpson define ‘value’—and what’s the value of a Simpson education?


Tierney: First and foremost, Simpson offers a very personalized education. Daily interaction with faculty and staff is the standard. Students have an opportunity to explore a variety of areas before locking in and declaring a major. Simpson’s innovative curriculum is designed to prepare students for academic and professional success. In addition, Simpson offers outstanding internships, study abroad, and undergraduate research opportunities and that is reflected in our most recent placement rate. Our students have a 99 percent placement rate in full-time graduate study or full-time employment within six months of graduation. That all speaks to the value of the Simpson experience.


Edmit: What strategies or tips would you recommend for college applicants to maximize their financial aid packages


Pavon: Apply early and complete the FAFSA. Families should reach out to their high school guidance office--most of the guidance offices know about outside scholarships. Take advantage of the free scholarship searches that are out there. Never pay anyone. Be in contact with any financial aid administrator if there’s a special circumstance not reflected on the FAFSA. We’re always willing to help those families with a one-on-one approach because we are small and very personal with each family, and affordability is a personal issue.'


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