It’s the 8th anniversary of my University Generosity March Madness Financial Aid Bracket. And I’m fired up.  Unfortunately, many of  last year’s victors won’t be dancing again in 2014 – Missing from the 68 team field are some of my favorites like the University of Richmond, Davidson, Georgetown, and Notre Dame — all of which have traditionally provided families with generous grant packages that meet 100% of their student’s demonstrated financial needs.

Frankly it’s a bit of a weak field, financially speaking.  The average need met by the schools represented is just about 60% — not particularly generous.     There are, of course, a few standouts, including:

– The best of the first round matchups: UNC (100% need met) vs. Providence (88%); and Duke (100% need met) vs. Mercer (87%).

– Some notable newcomers include: Harvard College (100%), American University (81%), George Washington University (87%) and  University of Tulsa (89%).  Also worth noting: this is the first time ever that American and GW (where Jill and I went to grad school) are invited, while Georgetown and Maryland are NOT.

– And my Cinderella pick for 2014:  Creighton University.  This Jesuit school in Omaha, NE meets 87% of demonstrated need.  And recently Creighton has been a basketball powerhouse, making the Dance in each of the past 3 years.
Click here and you’ll be able to see the full ‘university generosity’ bracket (with the school’s generosity indicated).  If your college basketball knowledge is somewhat limited, and choosing a winning team (or the right college, for that matter) based on its mascot or its weather seems trivial, here’s an alternative approach.  It may not be a formula for bracket success in the Billion dollar Buffet Sweepstakes, but it’s certainly a solid strategy when researching colleges with your child…and it’s a creative way to discern between two teams you have absolutely no clue about.

A couple of years back I chose  Loyola (MD) as my favorite dark horse.  The Greyhounds (great name for an underdog!) were seeded 15th in the East, are were making their first NCAA appearance since 1994, having won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.  They faced a perennial powerhouse and number 2 seed Ohio State in the first round.  Most gave Loyola absolutely no chance to win this game…and they lost.  But off the court, Loyola students are the big winners because the school, beautifully situated in suburban Baltimore and offering great programs in business and communications, meets 100% of demonstrated need, 72% of which is grants and scholarships (read: Cash Money).  Ohio State cannot touch that, meeting only 59% of need.

When the tourney ends, parents of 12th graders will start finalizing their financial aid offers.  Some will be happy.  Others, not so much.  If you are a 12th grade parent, I hope you will be happy…. and if you’re the parent of an 11th grader, one way to ensure that you’ll be happy next year is to understand the concept of University Generosity.  Now, while your child begins to compile his/her college list.

The time to learn how colleges ‘set’ and ‘discount’ their prices, and to take action on a college plan is now, well before your child’s 12th grade year.  I’m starting to see more families with younger children in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade get started on a college plan for all of their children.  They’re smart to start early.  Not only do they find that they have more options, but also their decisions are made with less pressure, less panic, and with better results.  Five figure results.

P.S. Inside Higher Ed has it’s own take on March Madness, dubbed the Academic Performance Tournament.  Check it out here.

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