New NSF Grant Offers Debt Relief to Encourage Retention

Promising math and science students with demonstrated financial need will benefit from a new five-year grant of $356,388 from the National Science Foundation. The NSF grant will allow the college to convert some guaranteed student loans to outright grants.

Reed has made substantial gains in retention, with the six-year graduation rate now at 75 percent compared to 56 percent in 1991. Reed will use the new NSF Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (NSF S-STEM) to take aim at one continued reason for attrition—debt burden.

A typical aid package for a Reed student with financial need includes institutional aid (from Reed’s endowment and the annual fund), family contributions, work-study, and student loans. A current first-year student on financial aid who is considering whether to return to Reed for sophomore year, can anticipate an average debt burden of $18,500 by the time they graduate.

The NSF program will allow Reed to offer debt relief to declared majors in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics, beginning in their sophomore year. The students selected must have a G.P.A. of 3.0 or higher. The college will use the S-STEM grants to replace the loans of qualified students with the greatest need. The program will support two successive cohorts (totaling 17 students) until graduation.

Ron McClard, Arthur F. Scott Professor of Chemistry, will be the principal investigator in this joint venture with NSF. He will work with Jon Rivenberg, director of institutional research, and Leslie Limper, director of financial aid, to assess whether debt relief increases retention of this group of students at Reed.