After a week of discussion, and thanks to many excellent comments, we have now established that: Williams is paying poor students to stay home. Comments:

1) More Record coverage, please! Interview students studying remotely. Ask them why they made this choice. Tell us their stories.

2) I am still confused about the exact mechanics of full financial aid students at Williams, even before the pandemic. Explanations welcome! I had never known that Williams gives these students cash. This was certainly not true 30 years ago. When did it begin? The reason this is confusing (just to me?) is because of the summer earnings and term-time employment requirements. Williams always knew that students faced more expenses than just tuition/room/board. But didn’t money for that used to come directly from the student, who was supposed to earn it, either during the summer or during school? That is, the College did not say, “Give me the money you made working the desk in Sawyer and, and then Williams will turn around a send you cash.” Instead, you got that money directly and were expected to pay for your expenses from that.

3) abl and WA raise an important point:

As I see the data, equal numbers of students on finaid and off have chosen to return to campus. The difference is how many students are continuing their education remote rather than pausing it, right?

If so, this distinction also seems crucial. This suggests that the incentive to stay on campus for students on finaid is about the same as it is for students not on finaid (which would be optimal, right?). This also suggests that the primary impact of this policy is to encourage students on finaid not to take a gap year. If I’m understanding this correctly, this means that this policy is doing the exact opposite of what you suggest: it provides a bulwark against (and an effective one!) the pandemic’s influence in “[t]urning Williams into a college for rich men’s sons and daughters once again.”

Roughly the same percentage of finaid and non-finaid students are returning to campus. More finaid students are studying remotely than taking a gap year. The result of the $4,000 payment seems to be encouraging finaid students that are not coming to campus to continue studying remotely, rather than take a gap year.

Maybe! Record reporting would shed light on this issue. Note that my assumption is that, in the absence of the extra cash, only half of the extra remote studying poor students would come back to campus. The other half would either, by definition, still study remotely or take a gap year. Might that estimate be high? Maybe! But, my central conclusion — Williams is paying poor students to stay home — is true unless the marginal impact is zero.

My prior, also, is that rich students are much more likely than poor students, all else equal, to take a gap year during a global pandemic. Isn’t that your prior? If not, why not? Therefore, I think that the fact that 74% of non-poor students are studying on campus is an underestimate of the percentage of poor students who would be doing so in the absence of the extra cash. But, again, I could easily be wrong.

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