I woke up the other day with a genius insight. The biggest Williams mystery of 2010 is:

Why did Williams change its financial aid policies (ending no-loans for everyone and need-blind for internationals) when peer schools like Amherst made no changes?

Recall the discussion from the December 2008 Boston Alumni Meeting, near the depths of the financial crisis. Here is what I wrote then:

Greg Avis tried to point this out by describing the overall budget as about $200 million, with $40 million of that going to financial aid and $100 million to staff compensation. Both those areas are sacred. (And, again, this is my (weak?) evidence for claiming that need-blind international aid is safe. If it weren’t, that $40 million number could come down.)

The focus was much more on a) Cuts we are not going to make (people, aid) and b) Cuts that we have already made (delaying capital projects, hiring freezes, WNY, sustainability).

Of course, my memory could be faulty but my sense was that everyone walked out of that room thinking that Morty and Greg Avis ’80 (lead trustee) had no plans to change financial aid policies. And yet, just a year later, that is exactly what Williams did, despite the fact that the College financial situation was much stronger in February 2010 then it was in December 2008 because of the rebound in financial markets.

I have now figured out why Williams made these changes despite Avis’s obvious committment to financial aid in 2008.

Williams began planning for a major increase in international admissions when it named Adam Falk president a year ago. Because international students are, on average, much poorer than US students, the only way to go to 25% international is to reinstate loans and become need-aware for internationals.

Mystery solved!

If you don’t buy my explanation, why do you think that Trustee Chair Greg Avis ’80 went from strongly defending the College’s financial aid policies in December 2008 to radically changing them in February 2010? Alternative explanations welcome!

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