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More than 70 percent of incoming freshmen at NIU received scholarships

September 13, 2021

Incoming freshmen to Northern Illinois University this fall received more scholarship money than ever before, and improvements to the scholarship process served to diversify the pool of scholarship recipients.

More than 70% of incoming freshmen received a Merit Scholarship, and 64% of them are students of color, compared to 54% of Merit Scholarship recipients in fall 2020.

NIU increased the total amount of Merit Scholarships awarded by 26% (from $5 million to $6.3 million) and the total number of enrolled students with a Merit Scholarship increased by 48%. In addition, scholarship support from generous donors through the NIU Foundation continued to be strong. Last year, the Foundation awarded $2.8 million to more than 2,300 students.

Merit Scholarships renew annually for four years provided the student maintains full-time enrollment each fall and spring semester and maintains a required grade point average (GPA).

“Scholarships like these are an important factor in students deciding where they will attend college,” said Anne Hardy, NIU Director of Scholarships. “Because they are for four years, they also are key to providing students with the opportunity to persist, excel and complete their studies.”

The number of scholarships awarded to freshman increased across all ethnicities.

A major factor in these increases was NIU’s 2020 decision to shift to test-free admissions, eliminating the use of standardized testing in the admission process, and in the awarding of Merit Scholarships.

Fall 2021 is the first semester of scholarship awards under the new process, which automatically considers all incoming students’ eligibility for Merit Scholarships based solely on the grade point average (GPA) from their high school transcripts.

Before making the change, NIU reviewed national studies on the efficacy of using standardized test scores in admissions and scholarship considerations, as well as more than 20 years of its own institutional analysis. The university found that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success, in terms of both cumulative university GPA and graduation rate, than ACT/SAT. Students most likely to have strong high school GPAs but low test scores were those of color, first generation to college, low income students and students who speak a second language in the home.