How The University of Southern Mississippi Has Aligned Freshman Scholarship Amounts to Maximize Affordability for Full Pell Grant Recipients

By: Susan Scott, Senior Associate Director, University of Southern Mississippi

As college costs continue to rise, students’ ability to pay has not, motivating Enrollment Services leadership at The University of Southern Mississippi to take a deeper look at its freshman scholarship offerings.

“More than 80 percent of our students receive some sort of financial assistance,” said Dr. Erin Lambert Dornan, Director of Undergraduate Scholarships. “We want a college degree to remain an affordable reality–especially for those who are good students and just need some financial help.”

Scholarships and federal financial aid are two important tools to ensure college affordability for USM students and families. USM’s most popular scholarship is the Freshman Academic Excellence Scholarship, which is awarded based on GPA and standardized test scores, beginning with a core GPA of 3.0 and at least a 21 on the ACT. Students who meet the lowest level Academic Excellence requirements and appropriate deadlines earn $2,500 annually in scholarships. As academic merit increases, so do scholarship amounts up to the total cost of tuition.

The real sweet spot, though, is for students who qualify for a full federal Pell Grant.

“Students who qualify for a full Pell Grant and even the lowest level Freshman Academic Excellence Scholarship will see that almost all of their tuition costs are covered,” said Kate Howard, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions. “We are thoughtfully and intentionally moving the bottom line for families.”

USM is already one of the most affordable Carnegie R1 research institutions in the country, and a recent report from LendEDU demonstrated that USM students graduate with the lowest average student debt in the state of Mississippi – more than $3,000 less than its closest competitor.