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Expanded financial aid program offers access, opportunity

Jun. 11, 2009, 12:28 PM

In a historic move that strengthens its dedication to accessibility and affordability, Vanderbilt announced last fall that it will eliminate need-based loans from financial aid packages offered to eligible undergraduates. Starting this fall, the amount of need-based loans normally included in undergraduate financial aid awards for new and returning students will be replaced with Vanderbilt grants and scholarships. 


“This underscores Vanderbilt’s commitment to the belief that ability, achievement and hard work—not a family’s financial status—should determine access to a great education,” said Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos of the historic move. “When financial barriers to a Vanderbilt education are reduced or eliminated, Vanderbilt becomes a more dynamic environment for everyone. Every student benefits from the enriched community composed of highly talented and qualified students of all economic, cultural and geographic backgrounds.”

Provost Richard McCarty noted that Vanderbilt will continue to be one of only a handful of U.S. universities that employs a “need-blind” admissions approach and additionally guarantees to meet each student’s demonstrated financial need. “We will continue to make admission decisions based on such factors as character, academic strength and leadership skills, but not on a family’s income level or ability to pay,” McCarty said.

No income cap for families

Unlike some other leading universities which have either reduced or eliminated need-based loans solely for low- and/or middle-income families, Vanderbilt will eliminate them for all students who qualify for need-based financial assistance, based on a holistic review of individual family circumstances. In determining a student’s demonstrated financial need, Vanderbilt takes into account each student’s individual family circumstances and all educational costs such as tuition, fees, housing, meals, books and course materials, plus allowances for personal and travel expenses. 

The fall 2009 program will apply to all need-based loans for new and returning undergraduate students. 

Debt reduction a priority 

The university started an initiative to reduce students’ education-related debt approximately seven years ago. That initiative has already resulted in the reduction of average overall indebtedness of graduating seniors by 17 percent. The additional funds needed to fully replace need-based loans will come from institutional reallocations and from philanthropy. This endeavor, called Opportunity Vanderbilt, targets a goal of $100 million in new gifts and pledges for need-based undergraduate scholarship endowment.

In addition to encouraging students to consider Vanderbilt who might not have otherwise, the expanded financial aid initiative will also allow students to pursue further education or career options that they might not have considered if they had need-based student loan debt. 

Reaction on campus and at Peabody was swift and positive.  “Peabody students are some of the most committed and caring in the country,” Dean Benbow said. “Especially for those who want to have an impact on others through education, the prospect of incurring significant debt to prepare for a career with relatively low starting compensation has been an impediment. This new program will reduce or eliminate that concern and make it possible for potentially great educators to receive a great education.”

For more information, visit To learn more about Opportunity Vanderbilt, contact Kerry McCartney, associate dean for development and alumni relations at, or 615/322-8500.