Duquesne uses generous financial aid as recruitment tool

Joseph Oliveri | The Duquesne Duke A student visits the financial aid office.
Joseph Oliveri | The Duquesne Duke A student visits the financial aid office. Duquesne offers financial aid packages to almost every student, as a way to “mold” the student body, administrators say.
Joseph Oliveri | The Duquesne Duke
A student visits the financial aid office. Duquesne offers financial aid packages to almost every student, as a way to “mold” the student body, administrators say.

By Brandon Addeo | The Duquesne Duke

As it turns out, almost no one pays the sticker price at Duquesne.

The university offers financial aid to 99 percent of incoming freshmen, according to a recent Money magazine study.

The university offered freshmen an average of $14,437 per student in financial aid in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the article.

Many colleges keep tuition prices high to give students the impression that the school is a quality school, the article explained. The universities then offer large financial aid awards to actually make the school affordable for students. This phenomenon is known as the “Chivas Regal effect.”

Paul-James Cukanna, Duquesne’s associate provost for enrollment management, said that on average, students pay only 57 percent of the listed tuition costs at Duquesne.

Cukanna called academic scholarships a “tool” to ensure that an incoming freshman class is “everything that Duquesne wants.”

“We use the scholarship money to mold the profile of the freshman class,” Cukanna said. “We want to use that money to … get more diversity, whether that’s racial diversity or geographic diversity.”

Students retain their freshman scholarships and continue to receive that money each semester they study at Duquesne, but that aid will not increase to match rises in university tuition, he said.

According to the Money article, some colleges are lowering their financial aid budgets so that they can lower tuition, a move that gives families a more realistic price tag, at the cost of “bragging rights” from scholarship awards.

Cukanna said Duquesne does not lower tuition prices because it “works for Duquesne.”

“Many times schools will lower [tuition] and lower [financial aid], but in the end they just can’t sustain that,” Cukanna said. “Then they have to raise their prices again and that causes problems for students.

“We’ve done research on that before … It’s better to maintain your price and control the net price through scholarshipping or discounting,” he added.

Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne, also stressed the importance of discounts, comparing Duquesne to the retail store JCPenney.

She said JCPenney used to offer 70 percent sales on all items, and decided to instead remove sales and lower all their prices. The result?

“It bombed incredibly,” Guskey said.

“Consumers like bargains, they like sales, they like to feel they’re saving money,” Guskey said. “I think that’s the reason why Duquesne does this and does it so successfully.”

Guskey said she believes the university is “doing it the right way.”

“I think, in reality, if you lower the price of your tuition and offer less scholarship money it just cheapens the image of the university,” she said. “[In marketing] you have to be strategic in your [pricing], whether you’re selling ketchup or a college tuition.

“Duquesne very carefully thought out their strategic plan for pricing their tuition, the fact that we’re now getting recognition … in Money magazine, I think it’s a win-win for us.”

Some students do not view the issue as a win for them.

Jessica Bard, a sophomore early childhood education major at Duquesne, said the money used for scholarships could be put to better uses.

“[It’s] kind of a waste,” Bard said. “We’re paying so much money to be here, but then at the same time they give everyone aid, that really doesn’t make sense.”

Bard said that one of the reasons she chose Duquesne was the scholarship award she was given, but she would have preferred lowered tuition for everyone.

Scholarship awards are something that students and parents expect to get, and are an important factor for students picking a college, according to Cukanna.

“Institutions tend to compete on scholarships,” he said. “For students who do not choose Duquesne, the majority [of them] think we don’t give them enough money compared to other schools … It plays a prominent role in deciding where a student will eventually enroll.”

Cukanna said that around 80 percent of Duquesne’s financial aid is merit-based while the remaining 20 percent is need-based. Merit-based scholarships contribute to the overall financial need of a student, as they are factored in along with smaller need-based scholarship awards, he explained.

“It kind of plays both roles,” Cukanna said. “It’s rewarding students for academic performance but it’s also meeting their financial need.”