Instead of criticizing next week’s Record article on the elimination of loans after it appears, let’s be proactive and tell the Record editors what sorts of questions they should answer in that article. EphBlog: Always here to help!

1) What is the breakdown by source of the $1.8 million in loans that Williams is forcing students to take out this year? (I assume that the $1.8 million in Morty’s letter is an annual cost estimate and that it approximates the amount being borrowed this year.) I have a vague sense that most (all?) of this comes from Stafford loans since the annual maximum for any student is so low. But don’t Stafford loans have income limits? Are there also special Williams-only loan programs?

2) Just for the historical record, what are the details behind this. “But other financial aid students had been expected, depending on income, to borrow cumulatively over their four years $3,800, $7,800, or 13,800.” Loans had already been eliminated (when was that exactly?) for “low-income” families. So, the income levels for the cut-offs above were probably fairly high. What were they? The more details of the history of student borrowing at Williams that the Record can provide, the better the article will be. Some relevant EphBlog links are here.

3) What is the breakdown by family income? This is the most interesting question. Again, I am not looking for the Record to judge the policy, I just want the facts. How much of that $1.8 million comes from students whose families with incomes higher than $150,000? Higher than $100,000? The College has been bragging for several years that the income of families receiving aid has risen, as if giving breaks to families making $200,000 or more was a sign of moral seriousness. Also, loans were eliminated for families below some threshold (was it 60k?). So, much of the $1.8 million windfall goes to families well above middle-income. Details, please.

4) Please pin Morty down on this claim.

This move also comes at a time when the College has succeeded in increasing the socio-economic diversity of entering classes. In fact, the Class of 2011 is the first in history to have more than half its members qualify for Williams-based aid. Even more have won scholarships outside the College.

Really? I have my doubts. But, first, let’s have the facts. As Lindsay Taylor’s ’05 thesis documents, the admissions office has two “tags” for socio-economic diversity: Socio-Ec 1 and Socio-Ec 2. (Those names could be off and the Record should tell us the exact details.) Has the number of such tags among enrolled, not just accepted, students increased in the last few years? If so, has this had a meaningful impact on the actual diversity of the class? To be concrete, what is the 10th, 25th and 50th percentile of family income among the class of 2011 relative to the class of 2001? I bet that family wealth has gone up much more than GDP growth in the past decade across these percentiles rather than down, as Morty’s comment implies. It is an empirical question.

Moreover, one way for the College to increase the number of students on financial aid is give more money to rich families, rather than to actually let in more poor families. Note my previous comments about this amazing table from Taylor’s thesis with data from the classes of 2005 and 2007.

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.

Why not hand every student a $100 check on the first day of classes in September? Presto! Every Eph is on financial aid! We have maximum socio-economic diversity! (Although perhaps the trend from 2005 to 2007 has not continued. See the latest data from the bottom of this page.)

Again, I am not sure how much fudging the College is doing here, but it would be fun for the Record to find out. Related screeds here and here. If you are the Record reporter assigned to this story, drop me a line. I know where the bodies are buried on this one (read: Overlap) and I give good quote.

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