A useful graphic in the annual update on the endowment tells us how Williams compares to its peers in terms of endowment dollars per student. This is a standard measure of relative institutional wealth.



1) What “students” are counted in this calculation, just undergraduates? Surely not all of Harvard’s endowment is dedicated to the education of undergraduates but, at the same time, undergraduates are not as expensive as business/law students because the latter come close to paying their own way.

2) Keep in mind that this graphic is misleading since it does not take account of debt. To do this calculation properly, you need to subtract each college’s debt from its endowment before dividing by the number of students. Williams has $260 million of debt. There was no reason to take out this debt except to lever up the endowment. That idea (which may or may not have been stupid a priori) cost Williams around $50 million. Thanks Morty!

3) For months, I have claimed that the situation at Williams is much more serious than most people realize and that any attempt to keep the two promises that Morty has made (no lay-offs or changes in financial aid) will require cuts that most readers find unacceptable. Others disagree. Fine! In a year or two, we will know for sure who is right.

But, in the meantime, we can look for evidence either way. If I am right, than other schools will take serious steps, especially schools less wealthy than Williams. Last week, I pointed out that Tufts had given up on need-blind admissions. Counter-argument: Tufts is much less wealthy than Williams. It doesn’t even make the top portion of that list (although it is toward the bottom of the full version.)

If I am right, more and more schools on this list, even schools as wealthy as Williams, will have to make sorts of cuts that Williams has (so far) avoided. If my critics are right, that won’t happen, Morty will keep his promises while Williams maintains its long-term financial health.
Wellesley College, three spots below Williams on the list, just fired 44 employees. Anyone who thinks that we are immune from the forces buffeting Wellesley is ill-informed. They are the canary. We are the miner.

Cool winds I hear,
Of change I fear,
And shiver from the cold.

UPDATE: From a poem by Nevin Steinberg. Title and rest of poem now lost.

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