Tue 23 Feb 2010
Professor Sam Crane once accused me of wanting fewer poor students at Williams. I thought (and think) that this is an unfair attack. No one has criticized more forcefully (or, at least, at greater length) the ending of the no-loans policy or the end of need-blind admissions for international students. But ignore that background for now.
Assume that I am evil, that I seek to minimize the number of poor students at Williams and that I have mind-control over Bill Wagner and the Trustees. What would I do?
Keep in mind: 1) Unfortunately, I need to be sneaky! I just can’t fire Admissions Director Dick Nesbitt or order the Admissions to start favoring rich kids. 2) Any family that doesn’t make at least $200,000 per year and have substantial assets is, as far as I am concerned, “poor.” 3) I don’t mind poor students as long as they have a burning desire to be rich, to head to Wall Street or Silicon valley after graduation and make a fortune. 4) I have already laid the groundwork by endlessly complaining about financial constraints (and conveniently ignore that Swarthmore and Amherst are holding steady to their stated policies).
Given these constraints, we can maximize the number of rich students at Williams in five easy steps:
First, I would end the no-loans policy. I can’t prevent Dick Nesbitt from admitting all those poor kids, but I can do my best to make poor kids go elsewhere. The best way to do that is to end the no-loans policy. What poor kid would ever choose Williams over Amherst/Swarthmore/Princeton/Davidson/Haverford and so on if doing so required an extra $10,000+ in loans? Few would, and none should! See our prior discussion. Only rich students will choose Williams over no-loans schools.
Second, I would end need-blind admissions for international students. I don’t mind non-US citizens as long as they are rich (or want to be rich). I just don’t want too many poor (or plan on staying poor) international students. Williams is for the rich of all countries. Although I can’t force Dick Nesbitt to actively discriminate against poor students, I can limit his budget enough that he has no choice but to do so.
Key in both ending no loan and need-blind is that it makes Williams much less desirable to both students coming from non-rich families and to students thinking of lower paying careers in teaching, social work and so on. And that is the point! I want those students to go to Swarthmore and Amherst instead. Rich students and future investment bankers won’t be deterred by loans or need-awareness admissions. If anything, they will be looking for elite schools that “provide a better fit” for them and students like them. These two policy changes both decrease applications from poor students and make it more likely that admitted poor students will go elsewhere.
Third, I can make these changes in an arbitrary fashion, without buy-in from alumni or current students, and with no words of support from the incoming President. This helps because it emphasizes to poor applicants how flighty Williams is on the topic of financial aid, how easy it was for us to retract the promises we have made in the past, how little weight we place on the concerns of non-rich families. I especially want to discourage those students with income levels that are near various cut-offs from applying. I want them to think that Williams will never hesitate to screw them over should their family’s circumstances change. The best way to credibly signal that attitude is to treat these decisions in a cavalier fashion: no warning, no discussion, no debate. Even better: these decisions directly contradict many of the public statements that Morty made over the previous year! I don’t want any poor family to trust Williams ever again.
Fourth, I would be as sleazy and misleading as possible in describing the new policy. In fact, I would write something like:
When, beginning with the Class of 2015, we go back to something that resembles the loan program that was in place until fall of 2008, Williams will continue to be attractive to students of all incomes and we will have a wonderfully strong and diverse student body.
This will also be true as we begin to admit international students somewhat differently than we have in recent years, beginning with the class entering this fall.
Note my genius! Sensible readers like ’10 and Jr. Mom will assume good faith and think that the new policy applies to the class of 2015. After all, I specifically mention that class year! But, in fact, I will be sleazy and actually start this policy now, for the class of 2014.
By doing so, I also break my promise to the international students who applied. On December 31st, when their applications were due, I promised them that Williams would consider their applications without reference to their financial need. Suckers! Just six weeks later, after the applications deadline for other elite schools has passed. I renege on my word. Won’t that give me a great reputation among poor international applicants in the future?
Fifth, when cornered on this point by annoying alums, I will instruct Director of Public Affairs Jim Kolesar to give an incomplete reply. For example, when an alum asks whether the new or old policy was used during Early Decision last fall, Jim will reply:
The number of international students who enter the class through early decision is small enough that the Admission Office believes it can begin now to shape the international cohort in the Class of 2014 in line with the aid budget and without there having been significant advantage or disadvantage to having applied early.
Beautiful. Whatever the truth, an answer like this makes every poor applicant worry that Williams is not to be trusted. It sure seems like we may have started being need-aware for internationals three months ago . . . in secret . . . without telling anyone . . .
I wonder what other changes will be made in future years.
Steps 1 through 5 would be enough for now. I want to minimize the number that of poor students that apply to Williams and maximize the number who choose other schools instead, both because those schools offer a better deal (loans versus no-loans) and because we make it clear that our committment to financial aid is suspect. By doing so, I increase the number of rich students (who don’t need aid or loans) and those who plan to be rich (and, therefore, don’t worry about taking out loans).
Now, Professor Crane will insist that this is a silly analysis. After all, he knows the sort of guy that Bill Wagner is, knows that Wagner and other senior members of the Administration would never be so biased against non-rich applicants.
But does he really know Bill Wagner that well . . .
And, more importantly, if Bill Wagner is doing everything that someone interested in maximizing the number of rich students at Williams would do, what does it matter what Bill Wagner really believes . . .
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