Williams is paying poor students to stay home. There was some well-meaning denial of this fundamental fact two weeks ago, but facts don’t care about your feelings.

1) From the FAQ: “[Y]ou [student on financial aid attending from home] will receive a $4,000 personal allowance per semester to cover expenses you’ll incur while studying remotely.” Nor is that the only source of funding:

If you are a financial aid recipient, you will receive information from the Office of Financial Aid shortly about funding to support costs incurred because of Covid-19. Setting up a work space is one example of how such funding might be used.

Needless to say, non-financial aid students working remotely are ineligible for this funding, as are financial aid students who choose to come to campus.

2) Although the FAQ does not make this clear, I am fairly certain — confirmation welcome! — that this extra funding does not apply to all financial aid students. For example, if you only receive $2,000 in aid, the College is not going to give you a $4,000 stipend. (Right?) Indeed, the stipend probably only kicks in for the students with significant financial aid packages, those for whom tuition is already free and who receive (mostly) free room-and-board as well.

3) Do the people who run Williams hate poor students? Do they seek to cleanse them from campus, to reserve the leafy quads for the rich and well-heeled? Of course not! Yet incentives don’t care about your motives. The College is paying poor students to stay away. What do you think will happen?

4) From an excellent Record article:

Enrollment disparities are also apparent between students receiving financial aid and un-aided students. While 16.1 percent of un-aided students indicated that they are taking a gap year or leave, according to the College, 6.2 percent of students receiving aid indicated that they would be taking a gap year or leave for this academic year.

The yellow portion are students still enrolled but studying remotely.

I am not sure that Record reporters Jeongyoon Han and Lucy Walker realized just how damning this data is. (But kudos to the College for its transparency and to the Record for continued excellent reporting.) The key is the 12% difference between the 9.7% of non-financial aid students who are studying remotely and the 21.7% of financial aid students. Note:

a) There are about the same number of financial aid and non-financial aid students at Williams, so we can just line up these numbers more or less.

b) The 9.7% of non-FA students choosing to study remotely are an interesting group. My guess would be that the largest group of these is international students. Thoughts?

c) Some subtle issues were brought up in our previous discussion. Thanks as always to all our commentators! I will dive into those details tomorrow.

My main point: Williams is giving poor students who stay home more money than those same students would receive if they came to campus. That is a mouthful, which I prefer to shorten to: “Williams Pays Poor Students to Stay Home”. And, as best we can tell, this policy — whatever the motivations behind it — is having the effect which any economist would predict: More poor students are staying away from campus than would have done so in the absence of this policy.

Williams is a college for rich men’s sons (and daughters) once again! Thanks Maud!

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