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Washington University to replace undergraduate federal loans with scholarships and grants

Washington University’s Brookings Hall on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at its Danforth Campus in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Washington University’s Brookings Hall in 2021 on the Danforth Campus in St. Louis.

Washington University is getting rid of federal student loans for all undergraduate students, the university announced Friday.

Starting in fall 2024, the private university in St. Louis will replace those loans with scholarships and university grant funds in the financial aid it gives to students.

“We want Washington University to be an option for any talented student regardless of their background, and we do not want finances to be a barrier,” said Ronné Turner, Wash U’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid.

The university already has a similar “no-loan” program for students whose families make less than $75,000 annually, and now Wash U is extending it to all undergraduates who receive a financial aid package, Turner said. It’s significant for students from moderate-income families, she added.

“They shy away from going to institutions where their students have to take out loans,” Turner said. “This new program, being no-loan, will make Wash U more accessible to students.”

She adds it means all undergraduates receiving financial aid from the university will be able to graduate without debt. And that, Turner explained, will help enrich the university’s campus experience by making the school more accessible to people from many backgrounds.

Washington University replaces undergraduate federal loans with scholarships and grants

“Talent is everywhere,” she said. “If (students) are not worried about paying for the Washington University education, then they have more opportunity to engage on campus, with their peers, in their studies.”

In recent years, the university has adopted other initiatives to lessen financial burden on students from low- and middle-income families, like making the cost of attendance free for students from Missouri and southern Illinois whose families make less than $75,000 a year.

The university’s announcement also comes as payments on federal student loans are set to resume soon, which are a burden for many across the country, said Sameer Gadkaree, president of the Institute for College Access and Success.

“It’s undoubtedly a big benefit for those students who get to enroll at Wash U who have financial need, to not have to rely on loans and debt in order to finance their education,” he said.

But not every student going to college will be able to enroll at Wash U or other wealthy private institutions like Brown, Northwestern and Princeton that have also announced moves to eliminate loans from their financial aid packages, Gadkaree said.

“Oftentimes that’s partially a feature of being able to afford to do so,” he said. “Wash U has an endowment of $12 billion, it has many wealthy students who can afford to pay quite a bit of tuition.”

The majority of students in the higher education system attend public colleges or universities, which can’t fully eliminate federal loans from their aid packages, Gadkaree said.

“In order for public colleges and universities to be able to take this kind of action, it’s going to take investments from federal and state policymakers,” he said.

Gadkaree is clear that this move by Wash U to stop using federal loans is a substantial benefit for students at that institution, but he wants to see it become possible for other universities, mainly public ones, to do the same.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.