This comment from Larry George merits placement on the main page.

I keep seeing this quote that Schapiro gave the Times:

It sounds immoral to replace really talented low-income kids with less-talented richer kids, but unless you’re a Williams or an Amherst, the alternative is the quality of the education declines for everyone.

The quote strikes me as more arrogant every time I read it. Williams and Amherst may well soon find that they, too, can’t afford pricey financial aid policies, especially in the face of tuition/fee increases that continue to outpace inflation greatly, a soured economy, and a demand curve that will soon start falling due to the end of the population boomlet. It is one thing to have a brand and pride in one’s offerings/product, but assuming one is invincible?

[Link and formatting added.] Comments:

1) I interpret Morty’s statement as less arrogant than a simple statement of reality, even a defense of all his buddies who run less rich colleges. Tufts just ended need-blind admissions. Morty is covering for them, fairly or not.

2) Many of these schools are not (yet) replacing “really talented low-income kids with less-talented richer kids.” Instead, they are replacing less talented low-income kids with slightly more or equally talented richer kids. Tufts, and most similar schools, have bragged for years about how they have increased the percentage of poor kids beyond what the percentage would have been had the school been family-income neutral. In other words, Tufts has been practicing affirmative action for low-income students. Now, the magnitude of that affirmative action has been small, certainly relative to the boost that elite athletes and under-represented minorities receive, but it has not been zero. So, as a first step, Tufts could just stop caring about family income in the same way that it does not care about astrological sign. Previous rant here.

3) But Morty is correct that for many/most of these schools, pure family-income-neutrality will not be enough. They will need to take dumber rich kids to pay the bills. And that is a shame. Fortunately, Williams is still far away from facing that choice, but not so far away that we shouldn’t worry, that we shouldn’t aggressively cut costs now so that we don’t face this dilemma in a few years.

4) Williams is not “invincible,” but I continue to think that folks like Larry under-estimate the strength of the demand for a Williams education and the resources that the sort of families who like elite LACs have and are willing to devote to a Williams education. We will get our first data point on that when the Common Data Set is released next fall. My prediction: SAT scores (rough proxy student quality) will be virtually unchanged between the class of 2012 and 2013. What is your prediction?

Another way to think of the untapped demand is to note all the alumni who would love to send their children to Williams. At my 20th reunion, there were almost 300 alumni children, and that was just among the attendees! Assuming that my class is not unusual and that the correlation between reunion attendance and fecundity is not too high, there are at least 500 alumni kids in each cohort of potential applicants. Williams currently makes space for about 65 legacies per class. What happens to the 435 other alumni kids. Some don’t go to college. Some could have gone to Williams but turn it down to go to Yale or wherever. Some have no interest in Williams. But many (100? 200?) would love to go to Williams but don’t/can’t get in. I think that is fine. But I would just point out to Larry that the latent demand consists of some fairly smart kids (certainly many that are as smart as our tip and URM Ephs) with relatively rich parents. I don’t predict that Williams will ever need to tap that demand, but it could if it had to.

5) Larry deserves a lot of credit for publicly suggesting that financial aid policies should be on the table for discussion, that instead of just focusing on all the cuts that someone like me wants to make, Williams should rethink need-blind admissions and the no-loan policy. I disagree, but Larry is a brave man to even raise the idea at EphBlog. Have at him!

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