SMFA to change financial aid, tuition policies

The rhino statue outside the SMFA main building is pictured here on Mar 24. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily

The School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts will increase tuition and replace merit scholarships with need-based financial aid for incoming students, according to university officials at both institutions.

The shifts will effectively streamline the recently-acquired art school’s financial policies, making them closer to Tufts’ policies as a whole. The SMFA, which had previously shared close ties to Tufts through the schools’ dual degree program, merged with Tufts last summer.

Prior to the acquisition, all accepted SMFA students were considered for the SMFA Scholarship, which was granted to students based on merit, according to a 2016 version of the SMFA’s website. That scholarship will be phased out beginning next year, according to Director of Financial Aid Patricia Reilly.

In an email to the Daily, Reilly noted that the cut, which she said will not impact students already receiving SMFA merit scholarships, will standardize university financial policy. Reilly wrote that SMFA students will be considered for need-based financial aid from the same budget as all other undergraduate students.

“When the last of the grandfathered SMFA classes graduates, the practice of awarding merit scholarships will end,” Reilly wrote. “This will bring the SMFA at Tufts fully in line with the Tufts financial aid policy, which determines aid based solely on demonstrated financial need.”

Reilly said that Tufts plans to match demonstrated financial need for incoming SMFA students, though she noted that the university considers the financial need of applicants.

Despite the abandonment of merit scholarships, Reilly explained that other SMFA merit awards will continue. Grants such as the $25,000-per-year Springborn Fellowship, which is awarded to two students per year and is described on the SMFA website as “the most prestigious undergraduate award at the SMFA,” will not be impacted.

Incoming SMFA students will also pay the Tufts tuition rate, rather than the SMFA’s lower rate. Nancy Bauer, the dean of the SMFA and a dean of academic affairs in the School of Arts and Sciences, wrote in an email to the Daily that tuition, fees and room and board expenses for new SMFA students will be identical to that of undergraduates on the Medford/Somerville campus. Expenses for the coming school year add up to $68,372, according to a March 10 email to the Tufts community.

Bauer said that Bachelor of Fine Arts students currently enrolled in the SMFA will pay $59,126 in 2017-2018, which she said was an increase of 3.6 percent from the current SMFA rate.

“The percent increase is identical to the percent increase in tuition, fees and room and board for the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering,” Bauer added.

Senior Allyson Blackburn, a former SMFA dual-degree student, told the Daily that her decision to leave the five-year program was based partly on financial constraints. She called the recent change unfair, noting that athletic and dining facilities as well as student activities are less easily accessible for students on the SMFA campus.

“While I think that it makes sense for Tufts to standardize for undergraduate students, SMFA students living by the SMFA campus do not have nearly as much access to resources that students living at Tufts do,” she said.

Caleb Davis, the administrative manager for SMFA at Tufts, said that the university has been working to inform the SMFA community about the tuition changes. He said that Tufts will reach out to current SMFA students on financial aid to explain the policy shifts and answer questions.

Bauer explained that the shifts work to balance financial accessibility with tuition hikes.

“We realize that students and their families are concerned about the rising cost of higher education, which is why we are working hard to control expenses and limit tuition increases,” she said. “At the same time, we are committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all of our new students for every year they are at the SMFA at Tufts and honoring the tuition scale and financial/merit aid plans [that] students … expected when they matriculated.”