Consider this comment from last February’s discussion of financial aid policy and international admissions.

I graduated from Williams in ’97. I know for a fact that the college admitted Internationals and gave them lavish financial aid packages when in many circumstances they did not deserve the generosity. I knew one student in particular whose father owned a clothing factory in India and could have easily paid for his tuition in full at Williams but was able to hide his familial assets when he applied to the school. It’s a shame that American students are in effect subsidizing these (shady) international students.

1) I have heard similar stories, but I do not think these cases are common. Am I naive? I think that the vast majority of international students who get a full ride at Williams (and that is the vast majority of international students) come from poor families.

2) These things happen with/to/for US students as well. How can the College know the actual wealth tied up in a small family business? How can Williams know how much the non-custodial parent (or grand-parents) are willing to contribute? Short answer: We can’t.

3) Even with perfect knowledge of current family income/wealth, financial aid can never be “fair”. Some families put thousands of dollars away each year for college. Other families, with the exact same income, don’t save anything and use that money for vacations. Is it fair for Williams to charge these two families the same amount?

I would like to see Williams make some fairly major changes. First, we should treat international and US students the same: need-aware for everyone. Second, we should use other schools more actively as part of the process. (Perhaps we already do this?) If Jose gets a great offer from Yale, and we really want Jose, then we should match Yale’s offer. If Jose does not get an offer from Yale, then I have no problem asking him to take out $10,000 in loans. Third, we should consider offering four year cost guarantees. That is, we should tell students when they are accepted that Williams will cost them X. It is unfair to set tuition anew each year.

Finally, and most controversially, Williams should consider raising its sticker price significantly. Why not charge wealthy families $100,000 per year? We are selling a luxury good. Let’s price it accordingly.

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