Letter to the editor: Administrator response to Oakland Post net position article

Dawn Aubry & James Hargett, Contributor

Dear Oakland Post editors, 

We appreciate the opportunity to provide further clarity in light of your recent article, entitled “It’s unclear how increase in university’s net position will benefit students.” 

Thank you for helping your readership to understand how the increase in net position will impact the university overall, including our students, as shared with you from the University’s Finance and Administration leadership. Mr. Hargett, Interim CFO, offered further explanation, including a breakdown of investment income, gifts, permanent endowments, state appropriations, capital gifts, and grants. He also demonstrated that revenue decreases offset the gains that were made in many areas. 

We shared several examples of what the increase in net position means for students. We also referenced research opportunities, lab experiences, and how investing in facilities with more technology provide learning advantages, as well as how scholarships are strengthened via endowment fund gains. 

There is a general misconception that endowment investment returns can be used for any purpose. More specifically, there is an implication that excess scholarship dollars resulting from favorable investment returns in the endowment pool, could be used to offset reductions to institutional awards from the University, such as the Presidential Scholar Award. Endowed scholarships awards stand alone with very specific award criteria articulated by the donor and memorialized in a legal endowment agreement. The University is bound to honor the award criteria articulated in each endowed agreement and has no authority to move endowed scholarship funding to any other purpose. Of note: 

  • The Oakland University Endowment is the aggregate of all separate endowment and gift annuity funds at the university. 
  • Each endowed fund is administered separately to honor the intent of each donor, and the money is restricted for use according to the donor’s wishes. Currently, we have 404 endowments at Oakland University. 
  • They are most frequently created for scholarships, but OU has endowments for faculty, research, lecture series, programs, and even one for the preservation of Meadow Brook Hall. 

This fall alone, Oakland University provided 9,858 total merit and need-based awards to students. We encourage readers to visit oakland.edu/scholarships to view the wide range of OU financial aid opportunities. 

Additionally, it is important for readers to know: 

  • OU is faced with a double challenge: first, OU receives the lowest state appropriation per student among the 15 public universities; second, OU

disburses the equivalent of the entire state appropriation (approximately $54,000,000) to students in institutional merit and need-based financial aid. 

  • A portion of the institutional Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) allocation was used to fund the Summer Student Campus Corps, which helped to pay wages for students hired to work on special projects. 
  • University Advancement created and increased special awards to help students with COVID-related hardships. The OU Student Emergency Relief Fund dispersed $108,000. There were several OU Student Success Scholarships in the School of Business Administration, as well as other majors, that provided awards to students. 
  • The university created the OU Frontline Workers Scholarship, a $2,500 award for new transfer students who were Michigan Futures for Frontliners participants, honoring those who contributed tirelessly to keep our essential industries running during Michigan’s COVID-19 shutdown. 
  • For incoming freshmen, we offer the Golden Grizzlies Tuition Guarantee, which ensures students with demonstrated financial need receive the necessary funding for tuition. We also offer the OU Golden Grant and the OU Housing Grant, both valued at up to $5,000 per year, to eligible students with financial need for tuition and/or on-campus housing. Entering freshman students with an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) of less than $8,000, as determined by the FAFSA, are automatically considered for these awards. 

It is important to note that the modifications made to the incoming student scholarships, mentioned at the conclusion of your article, allowed OU to establish the OU Transfer Grant, which introduced a new opportunity for transfer students with financial need, opening the door for them to attend OU and complete a bachelor’s degree. 

Building on the history of Oakland’s commitment to access and affordability, we are proud to offer a variety of merit and need-based aid opportunities for incoming freshmen and transfer students. In fact, according to the Higher Education Information Database for Institutions (HEIDI) OU offers the fourth-highest amount of need and merit aid in the state, behind only the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University. Please see the chart below.

Michigan Public University Institutional Aid Awarded to Undergraduate Students Fiscal Year 2020

Students should know the university leadership strongly supports and advocates for students in many ways, including through personal gifts that create scholarship and endowment opportunities for students. For example, in 2021, President Pescovitz made personal gifts totaling $1,250,000 to support student scholarships. 

Furthermore, the median debt of students graduating in the United States is $28,000, while the median debt in Michigan is $29,837. The median debt of Oakland University graduates is below both, at $26,889, thanks in large part to the support we have described above. In fact, more than half of all OU students receive non-loan financial assistance totaling $90 million annually. 

Finally, thanks to their outstanding education, our students are able to land excellent jobs upon graduation. In fact, the median salary of OU graduates in 2020 was $55,000 per year, above the national median of $54,686. Thus, students are able to earn gratifying and high paying jobs, and are well positioned to repay any loan debt. 

We appreciate the opportunity to share these points. At Oakland University, we are dedicated to student success and increasing access and affordability. We look forward to supporting our students to meet and exceed their educational goals. 

Dawn Aubry, Vice President for Enrollment Management 

OU alumna, College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 1992 

James Hargett, Interim Vice President for Finance & Administration

Letters to the editor can be submitted to [email protected]