Obama Scholarship Program at ASU Really a Financial Aid Program; Draws From Federal Grants and Scholarship Programs


The "scholarship program" at Arizona State University to be named after President Barack Obama really isn't a "scholarship" at all.

The nod to criticism of the school's denial of an honorary degree for Obama turns out to be a financial aid program called "ASU Advantage" that pools local and federal grants, private donations, and scholarships.

Pell Grants, a need-based federal assistance program for college students, are the first source of funds listed on the ASU Advantage Web page. "Scholarships," on the other hand, are fifth out of six. We're waiting for a call back from ASU officials who might be able to tell us just how much scholarship money is really in the Obama scholarship program.

Previous news releases about the program do not refer to ASU Advantage as a "scholarship," and a Web-based list of ASU scholarships does not include the name. Presumably, the Obama "scholarship" won't be listed here, either, once the name change is official.

ASU's President Michael Crow, on the other hand, definitely considers this a "scholarship program." From Crow's April 11 statement: 

In recognition of President Obama's commitment to educational access and to an entire career dedicated to public service, ASU is naming and expanding its most important scholarship program in his honor. Going forward, this program will be called the President Barack Obama Scholars and will offer thousands of students with the greatest financial need the opportunity to go to college.

Another wrinkle in this name game is that when ASU expanded the ASU Advantage program in 2006, raising the household income criteria for elibility from $18,850 to $25,000, it called this the school's "Sun Devil Promise." Yet only the "Advantage" name is slated to change.

Crow's reference to an expanded program, officials say, means a planned hike of the household income criteria -- basically, the same thing that was done three years ago.

In other words, ASU appears to have added to both the name and the eligibility of the program in 2006 -- which makes this honor for Obama look even more like a booby prize.

Here's another 2005 news release about the program:



March 16, 2005 ASU rolls out new financial aid program for state's low-income high school seniors In keeping with ASU President Michael Crow's vision of the New American University - a university of the highest academic rank that also is accessible - ASU is launching a series of new initiatives called "Access ASU." The cornerstone of the first initiative is a new financial aid program for low-income Arizona high school seniors, which is designed to enhance support for Arizona students and families pursuing higher education. Upon enrolling at ASU, all costs directly related to obtaining an undergraduate degree will be covered for these students. The program, "ASU Advantage," is targeted to Arizona families whose total annual family income is $18,850 or less. Through a combination of financial aid resources that do not require repayment, ASU will cover the annual cost of tuition, fees, books, room and board for eight semesters of full-time enrollment. ASU officials believe this program is the only one of its kind in the West. "ASU is committed to reducing and removing barriers students may encounter when pursuing their educational goals," says Jim Rund, vice president for University Undergraduate Initiatives. "This program is one of several strategies we are advancing to do just that." Arizona freshmen automatically are considered for the program once the student has been admitted to ASU and submitted his or her financial aid application (FAFSA). No other application is required for consideration. While ASU Advantage is targeted at students who have significant financial need, the university is committed to supporting Arizona families from a wide range of income levels. "Many people assume that they either do not qualify for financial aid or that financial aid is just about loans," says Craig Fennell, executive director of Student Financial Assistance. "The ASU Advantage is one of several ways we are able to help Arizona families." ASU's gift aid program, which includes both merit- and need-based aid, is substantial. ASU has increased institutional grant aid by 157 percent since 2002. This additional aid, combined with ASU's tradition of generous scholarship support, resulted in the highest amount of gift aid ASU has ever offered to Arizona residents. In 2003-2004, nearly 11,600 Arizona undergraduates received more than $34 million in ASU grant and scholarship aid; nearly $24 million was awarded to students who demonstrated financial need. This year, eligible Arizona undergraduate students with an annual family income of $20,000 to $50,000 received, on average, $2,200 in grant support. Those of the same group eligible for scholarships were awarded, on average, $4,200. For eligible Arizona students from families with an annual income of $50,000 to $80,000, students received an average of $1,400 in grant aid and those qualified earned scholarship support averaging $4,300. "Every family's financial circumstance is unique," Fennell says. "We encourage families to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year so that they can learn about what types of aid are available to them."
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.