The Voice: Winter 2003

The Voice

Scholarships increase for new freshmen

by Sally Jongsma

Students gather with Dr. James Schaap for an end-of-semester critique of each other's papers. Dordt College scholarship awards will increase significantly for next year’s incoming freshmen. Distinguished scholars, those given the highest academic awards on campus, will receive $9000 next year, up from $7500. Other academic scholarships and activity grants will increase from $500 to $2000 per year.

“As the cost of education rises, we want to help people afford a college education,” says President Carl E. Zylstra. Tuition at Dordt College this year is $14,700, lower than at many comparable institutions, but still a significant investment.

And competition for students is as great as it has ever been. For Dordt College to be able to offer the range of programs and services it does, it needs to maintain a student body of 1350 to 1500 students. Offering scholarships helps attract those students.    

“We need to be able to offer incentives to students with good academic ability so that they see Dordt College as an attractive option,” Zylstra says. He is convinced that Dordt needs to remain financially competitive with similar colleges and with state universities. He hopes the scholarship increases will be especially helpful at a time when state universities are implementing double-digit cost increases.

“We know people are looking at the quality of our education, what we stand for, and what our campus culture is like, but we also know that they look closely at what it costs,” says Zylstra. The increased scholarship dollars plus the fact that Dordt College has one of the lowest tuition rates in Iowa makes it competitive.

“We’re seeing a significant change in the admission process,” says Quentin Van Essen, executive director of admissions. Even five years ago, it was not uncommon to receive applications from students who had not applied anywhere else. They knew they wanted to come to Dordt, often because their parents or church members had come here. Today that rarely happens. Most students narrow their search by applying to two or three schools. Very few come without visiting campus, and financial aid and the affirmation a scholarship brings play an important role in their decision.

Although Dordt College has a loyal constituency, the increasing evangelical identification of many in its historical support base has changed the way students look for colleges. Other private and church-related institutions also are reaching out beyond their traditional constituencies with intensive and targeted marketing programs and higher scholarship offers. But Dordt feels strongly that the contribution it can make to the lives of its students and their role in society is a significant one. So it is committed to finding ways to attract good students who are interested in learning more about how a Reformed worldview can con-cretely shape the way they live and work as Christians in this world.

“In economic times like these, income increases do not always keep pace with cost of living increases,” says Zylstra. He believes the new scholarships will help bridge the gap. The top Dordt College awards are comparable to those offered by institutions of similar size and mission. In addition to the increased amount for Distinguished Scholar Awards, National Merit Finalist Awards rose from $5000 to $6000. Presidential Scholarships now range from $3000 to $6000, up from $2500 to $5000; Honors Scholarships range from $1000 to $3000, up from $500 to $2000; athletic awards range from $500 to $6000, up from $500 to $4000; and music scholarships range from $500 to $4000, up from $500 to $2500. Alumni grants and institutional grants are also being increased.

Director of Financial Aid Mike Epema says that in real dollars spent in relation to today’s incomes, the cost of a Dordt education is not much different than it was twenty years ago, despite the much higher price tag.

“We know college is expensive, but we’re doing everything we can to help make it affordable,” Epema says. He is particularly happy that Dordt offers more scholarships to students with mid-range GPAs than many similar colleges do. In fact, Epema and Van Essen estimate that two-thirds of next year’s freshmen will benefit from the increased amounts available. Epema already offers students a strong financial aid package that includes scholarships, loans, and work. But he is thankful for the increases so that the debt portion doesn’t get unmanageably high.

Zylstra reminds parents and students that a college education is an investment. “I ask parents if they think that if their twenty-one year old child didn’t go to college he or she would be debt free. They smile. Most have or would consider a significant loan for a car or a boat or a house. Education is also such an investment.”

Although a few students leave Dordt with little or no debt, the average student has taken out loans of about $16,000. The range, says Epema, runs from zero to $26,000, depending on what students spend, how much they earn, or how much their parents contribute. Epema believes that by increasing scholarship amounts those numbers will not rise as dramatically.