This last post on Lindsey Taylor’s ’05 senior thesis concerns the amazing table on page 46. (Previous posts here, here, here, here and here.) Taylor provides a summary of the number of applicants for financial aid and their average award among admitted students in the classes of 2005 and 2007. Fascinating stuff. Highlights:

1) Although two years isn’t much of a sample, it is quite possible that the College made significant policy changes in this time, due both to Morty’s arrival and the changing landscape of admissions at elite schools. Students today have many more/better choices than they did 20 years ago. If Williams wants to maintain the quality of its student body, it may need to pay up.

2) Note the dramatic increase in the number of applicants (and awards) in the highest income grouping. Among families with greater than $125,000 in income, the number applying/awarded went from 103/51 to 212/90 in just 2 years! What better indication could there be that the College is giving out merit aid in all but name?

This isn’t to say that a family making, say, $150,000, couldn’t use some help, even if they have been making this much for years and years, even if they fully expect to make this much for years to come, even if they have (wisely!) followed EphBlog’s advice and used their savings to pay off the mortgage rather than putting it in the child’s name. Money is always tight, no matter how much you have.

The point is that, as recently as two (much less twenty) years prior, Williams had claimed to be need blind, to take care of the demonstrated financial need of every student. The College was either lying about this policy before or it has expanded the definition of need since. I’ll bet on the latter. Moreover, I predict that we will be seeing much more of this in the future. Excellent students are an input to the production of an elite education. If Williams wants to keep attracting them, it will need to pay for them.

3) The number of applicants/awards in the lowest income category has dropped from 57/55 to 44/42. Part of the decline, perhaps, is due to the tougher economic times of 2001. But that doesn’t make too much sense since, I think, applicants would have been required to submit income tax forms for 2000 versus 2002, and 2000 was a good year for economic growth. Perhaps the decline is too small to matter, but I still find it surprising. Imagine the Record headline: “Admissions of Poor Students Drop by 20% in Two Years”.

I suspect that both years represent a significant overestimate of the number of applicants from low income families. Note the 2 students each year who were denied any aid. One can probably divide the sub-$25,000 families into two categories: Those who are truly low-income year after year and those that just happen to have had low (reported!) income in the year of application. I don’t know how big this second category is, but the two applicants who were denied any aid presumably come from it. Divorce is probably a major part of the second category, but wise/sleazy financial planning might also play a part. Self-employed individuals have a great deal of flexibility in moving income from year to year.

4) It is simply amazing how little in loans Ephs today are required to take out. Or am I clueless about how things worked back in the day? Current students are seemingly required to take out no more than $10,000 in total loans over four years. I think that, 20 years ago, students on financial aid took out at least this much in loans, in an era when total tuition was half as much (and a dollar was worth twice what it is today).

5) As further evidence on the rise of merit aid, note that the average annual loan requirement dropped from $2,800 to $2,000. (I take this as the difference between total total award and average grant. It is not clear to me how campus jobs factor into this.) I predict that this trend will continue, that soon Williams and other elite schools will compete by offering to meet all demonstrated financial need without any loan requirements. You read it here first.

In any event, kudos to Taylor for presenting so much interesting information in one thesis. Kudos also to Morty for advising her and to Williams for making the data available. The entire project reflects well on Williams as a community of scholars.

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