If the financial crisis continues into next year and layoffs rise, requests for aid will probably increase, and the university will try its best to accommodate the need, said Richard Toomey, associate vice provost for enrollment management.
Santa Clara, which had a $697-million endowment in June, is among many schools using formulas that average their endowment returns over three years.
That "evens out the hits and misses," Toomey said, and allows schools to maintain financial aid and other programs in bad years.
In Claremont, Pomona College had, as of June 30, $1.79 billion in its endowment, a very large amount for a school that enrolls 1,520 students.
Karen Sisson, Pomona's vice president and treasurer, said that a dip in the endowment's value would not lead the college to reduce aid. Pomona this year replaced student loans with grants.
"One of the blessings we have with our endowment is we do have the capacity to weather the storm," she said.
At Northeastern University in Boston, about 10% more students than last year have asked for additional midyear aid, according to Anthony Erwin, financial aid director.
His office also is fielding calls from parents asking "what if" questions about whether reduced investment values could make them eligible for more aid. So far, the university has been able to meet all legitimate needs.
"I think all of us in higher education are watching the financial markets and how families are going to react," said Ronne Turner, Northeastern's dean of admission.
If the crisis had begun two months earlier, some colleges might have lost freshman enrollment, said Sarah Flanagan, vice president for policy development at the National Assn. of Independent Colleges and Universities.
For now, she has not heard such stories, but "there is a lot of nervousness out there," she said.