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Student Loans and Socioeconomic Diversity

I was having a conversation earlier today with a fellow classmate about socioeconomic diversity. The central question was, “Is Williams’ student body really diverse?” Doesn’t seem like it, my friend suggested. He pointed out the three (!) Tesla cars on campus that he saw in a couple of the student parking lots earlier this morning. “Mom’s Volvos,” as professors like to say.

Was my friend right? One way I thought of answering this question is by looking at the amount of loans Williams issues to students. Claim: Since Williams ended its no loan policy a decade ago and likes to say it has a more socioeconomically diverse student body, then the amount of loans owed to it by students increased over time (reasonable?).

According to the college’s financial statements (which I irritatingly spent quite a bit of time munging, since it’s only available as PDFs and (gasp) scans of printed paper) and assuming I am looking at the correct figure, it did not. Consider this plot of student loan receivables (the total amount owed to the college by students who take out loans) of every year since 2004:

Rplot

It is decreasing! Does this mean that Williams students have been taking on fewer loans despite the repeal of the no loan policy a decade ago? If so, why would students in an increasingly socioeconomically diverse campus take on fewer loans when tuition increases far faster than the rate of inflation? If the student body is really becoming more socioeconomically diverse, then maybe the terms of the Williams loan are worse than outside loans so my classmates just borrow externally (I have a number of friends who do!). OR, maybe the number is declining because most of the student body don’t need to take on debt. Why would they, if they had the money? But that would imply the college, contrary to some official claims, is not more socioeconomically diverse. What do readers think?

Also, the student loan number comes with this footnote:

Under Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 107, Disclosure about Fair Value of Financial Instruments, the College is required to disclose fair value of student loans. Management believes that it is not practicable to determine the fair value of loans receivable because they are primarily federally sponsored student loans with U.S. government mandated interest rates and repayment terms subject to significant restrictions as to their transfer or disposition. College sponsored and donor provided loans are similarly restricted as to interest rate and disposition

I don’t know what this means (informed commentary please!). Perhaps the summers I spent in banking haven’t really prepared me to plow through the college’s financial statements just yet. As with the rest of the filings and my latest problem sets, I find this quite befuddling. On top of this there are also so many accounting changes and new categories year to year that are almost never properly explained/defined and are frequently shuffled around, so much so that a skeptic would think someone somewhere is obfuscating. Maybe only PWC (who audits these for the college) understands them. Any useful pointers/corrections/whatnot welcome, especially from those who are familiar with higher education financing!

Should we spend more time on the college’s financial statements?

Don’t forget to send tips/comments/whatever to concerned.ephs@gmail.com!

UPDATE: I also looked at Bowdoin’s financial statements. Unfortunately it’s only available from 2011, but the trend is the same. Student loan receivables are also decreasing. Perhaps I am missing something? Informed commentary always welcome! Education doesn’t just end in the classroom!

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Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid V

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 5.

For instance, aided students have the same level of support for studying abroad as they have for studying at Williams. Books are free for aided students. We also pay attention to the discretionary allowance built into financial aid packages, recognizing that there are hidden costs to being a college student: doing laundry, getting a haircut, buying some pizza. We’ve increased that allowance by about 25 percent in the last five years to reflect how those costs have increased.

1) One recurrent complaint from faculty is how high on the hog Williams students live, even “poor” ones on financial aid. How much can you really be struggling if you can still afford to take nice spring break vacations with your friends?

2) The “free books” is almost certainly an absurd boondoggle, as we noted at its creation 7 years ago. Discussion here and here. Recall:

Let’s consider some reasons why the 1,000 students might spend much more than $400 per student now that books are free.

a) Why not buy all the recommended books as well as the required ones? They are free!

b) Why not buy new books rather than used books? They are free!

c) Why wouldn’t professors significantly increase the number/price of both required and recommended books? Right now, I (and other Williams teachers) try to take care in selecting books. We don’t won’t to screw students, especially students on financial aid. (Although we recognize that the College is supposed to provide enough aid to cover textbooks, we recognize that the aid may not be enough and, more important, that any leftover money can be used by students for whatever they want.) Now, books are free to half the students. And the other half of students almost all come from extremely rich families, at least relative to Williams professors. No need to worry about their book expenses!

The Record should do an update on the program. It has almost certainly been a failure, which is why no (?) other elite school does the same.

Back to Dudley:

Thirty years ago, 38 percent of our students came from families that couldn’t afford to pay the sticker price. Today, more than half of the first-year class receives aid.

This is incredibly misleading, for reasons that we have gone over again and again and again.

Summary: Understanding the change (if any) in economic diversity at Williams is easy. Just tell us the family income of the 10th poorest, 50th poorest and 100th poorest student in each class for the last 20 years. Previous discussion here. Williams has this data easily accessible since all those families filled out financial aid forms. (It is much harder to estimate trends in the incomes of the richest families.) The fact that Williams declines to make this data available makes me highly suspicious about how much of an increase, if any, there has been in economic diversity.

Today’s average aided family contributes a little less than $18,000 toward the $100,000 that Williams spends per student; $18,000 is about the same contribution that aided families paid 30 years ago, in inflation-adjusted dollars, when Williams spent about $40,000 per student, also adjusted for inflation. So compared to 1986, today’s aided students are paying the same price for a Williams experience that is superior in innumerable ways.

Interesting but debatable. Williams spends $60,000 more per year in inflation-adjusted dollars than it did 30 years ago. Is it really that much better? I have my doubts . . .

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Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid IV

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 4.

The loans that we package are for aided families whose income is above $75,000, and the amount of loan that we expect a family to take starts at $1,000 per year up to a maximum of $4,000 a year, based on family income and assets. It’s important to understand that a loan package is a recommendation. Families can and do choose to borrow more or less than we recommend. About half our families borrow what we suggest. About a quarter borrow more than we suggest, and about a quarter borrow less. So that’s some indication that our recommendations are pretty good.

Or its an indication that the recommendations suck and that measuring “need” is a farce.

This is the central fraud of “need-blind” aid: there is no good, objective measure of what each family “needs.” Yes, it is possible to make some gross generalizations: billionaires can pay the full sticker price. But, even though Williams has access to your tax returns and financial statements, it is still unable to accurately estimate how much money you will “need” to borrow.

And note that Dudley is still guessing misleading (or just clueless?) in his claim to know exactly how much “families borrow.” From the Wall Street Journal:

An increasing number of private student lenders are rolling out parent loans, which allow borrowers to get funds to pay for their children’s education without putting the students on the hook. … Colleges are helping push them in part because of a quirk in federal calculations. Unlike ordinary federal student loans, the parent loans don’t count on a scorecard in which the U.S. Education Department discloses universities’ median student debt at graduation. … Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said all private loans, whether given to students or parents, are excluded in the scorecard because the government doesn’t have access to private loan originations. She added that federal parent loans also are excluded because the scorecard focuses on undergraduate students.

Provost Will Dudley has only a rough idea how much “families borrow.” He doesn’t know about loans that parents take out. He doesn’t know about private loans.

Best part:

Colleges including Stanford, Boston College and Carnegie Mellon University are referring parents to the loans through emails or by putting them on lists of preferred loan options.

Does Williams? The Record should find out.

Back to Dudley:

There are schools out there that are “no loan,” meaning they don’t recommend that students borrow. But it doesn’t mean students at those schools aren’t borrowing. In fact, when you look at what students are actually borrowing per capita, even at the 44 best-resourced colleges in the country, they’re borrowing less at Williams than they are at a number of “no-loan” schools. More than half our students don’t borrow anything at all. The ones who do borrow are graduating with an average of about $15,000 in total debt. The national average is close to $30,000 for those who borrow.

Interesting. Comparing the borrowing rates at Williams with other elite schools would make for an great senior thesis. What predicts borrowing behavior? Note that the data landscape surrounding this issue has changed dramatically in the last few years, with the launching of the College Scorecard project. Dudley has amazing data about what students (not “families”) borrow in federal (not private) loans. (And, since most borrowing is done by students and from the Feds, this is good data.)

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Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid III

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 3.

We run a program in the fall called WOW—Windows On Williams. We’ve nearly doubled the size of this program in the last couple of years because it’s so effective. We fly in, at our expense, about 200 low-income and first-generation students to spend a couple days on campus, meet each other, meet other Williams students and attend classes. The program is competitive; we get about 1,200 applicants. The students we select are very strong candidates for admission, and getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances that they apply and will choose to enroll here if we admit them.

We have a similar previews program in the spring for admitted students who haven’t already participated in WOW and can’t afford to come here on their own. We want to make sure they get a chance to experience this place in person before they decide where to go to college. Our admission office travels to high schools where low-income and first-generation students are likely to be found. … That’s what need-seeking is: doing everything we can in a very active way to admit as many talented, low-income students as we can.

Interesting stuff. Comments:

1) There is a great senior thesis to be written about how “effective” (or not) WOW is. Recall Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 excellent thesis about predicting which accepted students will choose Williams. This is an important topic, of interest to Williams and to elite colleges more broadly.

2) Has anyone at Williams — including the dozens of capable folks who report to Dudley — actually studied this? I have my doubts. But tell us about it if you have! Note that obvious selection bias inherit in Will’s claim that “getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances” such students apply and enroll. The problem is that comparing students who do WOW with students who don’t do WOW is, potentially, useless because, almost by definition, students who do WOW are much more interested in Williams than students who don’t do WOW. They would be much more likely to apply/enroll than other students even if WOW did not exist. In fact, for all Will knows, WOW might actually decrease the percentages of such students who apply/enroll. (My bet, of course, is that Will is right and that WOW works.)

The right way to test WOW would be a standard A/B approach. Randomly select 10% (or whatever) of the students who met the criteria for WOW and then don’t invite them. If those students apply/enroll at the same rates as the WOW students, then WOW doesn’t do anything.

The College, like most modern bureaucracies, ought to do much more randomized testing to find out what works and what does not.

3) Even without a proper randomized controlled trial (RCT), you can still try to estimate the causal effect of WOW using various statistical approaches. A statistics major ought to jump on this opportunity.

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Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid II

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 2.

Thirty years ago, about 85 percent of students at Williams were white Americans; 15 percent were either students of color or international students. Today, just over 50 percent of the first-year class is white and American, and the number of students of color and international students is close to 50 percent.

1) “white and American” means something very different today than it did 30 years ago. Back then, no one (?) thought that checking Hispanic or Native American mattered much, or was a plausible strategy. Now, Williams is filled with “students of color” like this:

During one meeting of many, he [the college counselor] began, “There is something I want to suggest to you, but am afraid to.” “Why?” “I am afraid you won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do.” Of course, I asked him to tell me what it was. He then suggested that, on the Common Applications, I identify myself as Puerto Rican.

Depending on how you reckon, to say I am Puerto Rican is a half-truth or completely untrue. My mother was born there and raised in NYC since age six or so, and my father couldn’t be called anything but Caucasian. On other surveys, I’d sometimes checked the Puerto Rican and White boxes, sometimes just White.

I was bothered by Mr. Pallo’s suggestion, but I’d learned to trust him, and my parents supported his suggestion. A year ago, in fact, they had asked if I would use my mother’s maiden name, Reyes, hyphenated with my last name, Landsman, in my applications. I had flatly refused that. Needless to say, when I discussed my counselor’s suggestion with them, they supported him.

I asked Mr. Pallo if I could check both boxes. He responded with something along the lines of: “My fear is that that would be passed over, that someone would see ‘White’ and ‘Puerto Rican’ would be ignored.” After little more deliberation, I decided to trust him, and count it a small cost. So in that one question, I was Puerto Rican, though nothing else in my applications referred to that status.

Sure enough, I was admitted to Williams. Early freshman year, I received a letter from the Admissions Office. It stated that I had declared myself a minority on my application, specifically Puerto Rican. It asked if I still wanted to be considered so, and if not, to contact them and say otherwise. I thought about this a while. I did not particularly feel Puerto Rican, never have, and still don’t. Mom only spoke Spanish at home when she was being cute, or angry at us. I am not close with my PR family. But I saw no reason to take what I saw as a small risk of some kind of retribution, and I left Admissions with its original impressions.

So I was one of the however many “Latinos” in my year, though I doubt anyone at Williams outside of Bascom knew it.

People like Will Dudley love to signal the oh-so-high virtue of Williams by bragging about its diversity numbers. How accurate are those numbers? Is Williams really only 50% “white and American?” I will take the over on that!

In the last 15 years, we’ve put an increasingly explicit emphasis on socioeconomic diversification. So in the Class of 2019, slightly more than 20 percent of the students are eligible for the federal government’s PELL scholarship program for lower-income Americans. Fifteen years ago, that number was closer to 10 percent.

Doubtful. 15 years ago was 2001. Morty Schapiro, Will’s buddy, was President. Did he hate poor kids? Did he not care about socio-economic diversity? Utter bollocks! Williams has been bragging about its socio-economic diversity for decades.

The real story here (and why won’t the Record report it?!) involves the changing definition of socio-economic diversity. You get what you measure. PELL grants are a useful measure but they are hardly perfect. They only depend on income. The kid of a retired millionaire is just as eligible as an actual poor person.

And this was one reason why, just a few years ago, Williams measured socio-economic diversity solely by counting students from families in which neither parent had a four year college degree. (More background here and here.) That metric also had problems, but using it consistently allowed Morty and others to brag when it went up. But, now they no longer report that metric so we are barely aware that it is going down. Williams uses a new metric and gets to brag as it goes up. Moral signalling never goes out of style!

My position on these issues is the same as always:

Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.

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Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid I

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 1.

Will Dudley ’89 is a good guy and will make a fine president at Washington and Lee. EphBlog is sad that he isn’t (?) in the running to succeed Falk. All that said, there is no excuse for misleading gibberish like this.

How do you determine what a family can afford to pay?

The primary driver is income. We also look at families’ assets. We completely exclude from consideration retirement plans. We assess other funds at a rate of around 5 percent. There’s a myth that saving for college hurts you, because we’re just going to take it all from you. But we’re not. If you have $100,000 saved in the bank, it’s reasonable to ask you to contribute about $5,000 of that savings each year.

Liar. Or, at the very least, highly, highly misleading, with a tricky implicit definition of the “you” in that last sentence. Imagine that you have a 5 year old kid and win $100,000 in the lottery. Dudley implies that the College will only take 5% of that money each year, once little Johnny comes to Williams. False! If you put that $100,000 into an educational savings vehicle, or anything else with Johnny’s name on it, then Williams will take all $100,000 of it, every single dime.

If, however, you are smart enough to read EphBlog (and not listen to misleading statements from Williams officials), you should, at least, keep the $100,000 in your own name. You can always use it for Johnny’s tuition at Williams if you want to.

Even better, of course, is to put the money in a retirement account in your own name. (By the way, I love Will’s preening about the marvelous moral virtue of Williams excluding “retirement” plans. You mean that Williams won’t count Mitt Romney’s $100 million IRA among his assets? That seems fair!)

The details about how the College caps contributions from home equity are always interesting. Can any reader provide an update on the current rules? Related discussion here.

Advice: If you think your kid will get accepted by an elite school, then a) Save zero money in her name, b) Do as much of your savings as possible in retirement accounts, c) Pay off your mortgage and, only after you have done all the above, d) Save money for college.

Williams is no longer need-blind for international students. How does the college fulfill its aims with regard to access and diversity when it comes to this demographic?

We meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for every single student that we admit, domestic or international.

Does anyone else find it distasteful when College officials are so misleading in communications with alumni? I do! (But kudos to the Williams Magazine for at least bringing up the topic.)

Dudley ought to just be truthful. (Corrections welcome if any of my facts are wrong.) Williams sets a financial aid budget of X for international students. It admits students in, roughly, the order of desirability and gives them the aid they need until X is used up. After that, the only international students considered are the rich ones.

And that is a perfectly reasonable policy! As we have discussed many times before, the main issue/injustice/error with regard to international admissions is the quota.

We determine ability to contribute in the same way. Our international students are coming from more countries today than ever. And the acceptance rate for international students is around 5 percent, which is much lower than it is for domestic students. The competition is really incredible, because Williams has a fantastic international reputation.

The 5% figure is interesting. Given the latest news release that 100 international students were accepted into the class of 2020, we can estimate 2,000 applications from abroad. That is a big number, around 25% or 30% of the total applicant pool. Most accounts, as above, suggest that the pool is very strong. I suspect that, if Williams replaced the bottom 200 American students with the top 200 international students it currently rejects, the overall class would be much stronger academically, perhaps even at Harvard/Princeton levels.

Many schools are bringing wealthy international students to their campuses in order to bring in more tuition dollars. We’re not doing that.

Uh, aren’t you? After the fixed financial aid budget for international students is used up, Williams only looks at “wealthy international students.” Don’t insult us like this, Will!

We’re need-seeking internationally as well as domestically. In fact, our international population receives more aid than our domestic population. Roughly half of our domestic students receive financial aid, compared with close to 60 percent of the international population. And the average aided international student receives about $10,000 a year more in financial aid than the average aided domestic student.

Vaguely interesting but mostly separate from the critical issue: Having a quota against international students is, morally and practically, about as defensible as the quota against Jewish students a century ago.

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Simpler Financial Aid Calculator III

Williams is promoting a simpler financial aid calculator. This article merits three days of discussion. Today is Day 3.

Wellesley is more economically diverse, with close to 20 percent of students receiving Pell grants. Williams has recently been making an effort to become more so, Mr. Dudley said, and about 22 percent of this year’s freshman class receive Pell grants, up from an average of 18 percent in previous years.

What rubbish! Is the New York Times stupid or is Will Dudley misleading them or both? Williams has been “making an effort” to become more economically diverse for at least two decades and probably much longer. Where does the “recently” come from? Consider:

Schapiro said that “recent increases in both the number of international students and in the overall socio-economic diversity of our student body are examples of steps in the right direction.”

That is former President Morty Schapiro, Will Dudley’s good friend, opining about economic diversity in 2003. That was 12 years ago! Examples from the 1990s and 1980s would be easy to find. In fact, we can probably go all the way back to the 1930s and quote President Tyler Dennett ’04 on Williams having too many “nice boys.”

Isn’t it weird how the people who run Williams are always claiming (just pretending? actually believing?) that they are doing something new and path-breaking when, in fact, it is the same stuff year after year? It’s like they haven’t been in charge for decades!

Now, in Will’s defense, it might be the case that Williams has changed its focus in admissions, given more preference to students who would receive Pell grants. Has it? Reader comments welcome. For at least the last 15 years, Williams has measured socio-economic diversity by looking at the percentage of first generation students. It would be weird to change this now, without discussion, since doing so makes historical comparisons difficult. But it might also be sensible to do so since more (most?) observers seem to be using percentage-Pell as a standard (and easy to measure/verify) metric for comparing socio-economic diversity acrooss colleges.

Informed commentary welcome.

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Simpler Financial Aid Calculator II

Williams is promoting a simpler financial aid calculator. This article merits three days of discussion. Today is Day 2.

“We want it to be as easy as possible for prospective students and families to know how much it would cost to attend Williams,” said William Dudley, the provost at the college, in northwestern Massachusetts. “People know our sticker price — $60,000. They don’t realize that the average family receiving financial aid is paying $13,000.”

First, if I were Will Dudley’s agent, I would be doing my best to get him quoted in the New York Times. Well done! Will is probably the leading internal candidate to succeed Adam Falk in a few years, as well as a possible president at other elite liberal arts colleges. The more that he appears in the prestige press, the better his chances.

Second, do the people who are plausible candidates at Williams truly not realize the vast financial aid resources that we shower on students? I have my doubts.

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Simpler Financial Aid Calculator I

Williams is promoting a simpler financial aid calculator. This article merits three days of discussion. Today is Day 1.

A simplified financial-aid calculator — much easier to use than the federally mandated calculators that most colleges create — has begun spreading beyond Wellesley College, where it began two years ago.

The spread, to the University of Virginia and Williams College, starting Monday, raises the possibility that more colleges will follow and that information on actual college costs will become more widely available. Currently, many low- and middle-income families are unaware of how much financial aid is potentially available to them, research has found.

Maybe. The whole notion that there are tens of thousands of students with elite college credentials who are unaware of financial aid realities is, mostly, untrue. These large numbers come for defining elite to include SAT scores below the Williams average and by ignoring high school grades. The vast majority of poor high school students who don’t know what a great deal Williams is have zero chance of being accepted.

Here are the two calculators. There is a great story to be written by the Record which would highlight the types of families that are most screwed over by Williams in the financial aid process. These families would look identical to the first (simpler) calculator but then end up with very different aid packages once the second calculation has done its best to punish frugality.

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Record Article on Financial Aid IV

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 4:

In the experience of Lily An ’15, the Office of Financial Aid has not been very generous.

“When I got in, I got into both Amherst and Williams,” An said. “Amherst gave me more financial aid. Williams gave me less, but also gave me the book grant. I went to previews for both schools. When I was at Williams, my mom came with me and went to the financial aid office and asked them to match Amherst’s offer. They took a look at my numbers and discovered that they had given me ‘too much,’ and took away both the money and the book grant.”

1) This (and the rest of the article) is great reporting by Bender. Kudos!

2) Whoa! I have never heard of the financial aid office decreasing an already-made aid offer. Has anyone else? Is this common? One cynical take would be that the College, like a good used car salesman, “reprices” deals depending on supply and demand. That is, the College was originally X interested in An, and so gave her a deal worth Y. It then figured out that it was really less than X interested in An. So, it changed the deal to Z < Y.

3) Would be good to know some more details. What sort of mistake was made? Future historians would love if Bender/An were to make public the underlying documents.

Because An didn’t like Amherst as much, she decided to attend the College.

EphBlog always recommends that applicants pick Williams over Amherst, especially female applicants who are likely to find the male/female ratio in Amherst/Smith/Holyoke less desirable. But this is all-else-equal advice. If Amherst is giving you a much better deal — $10,000 over four years? $20,000? — then Williams may not be worth it.

“My parents had to take out a second mortgage on their home because they don’t want me to graduate with debt,” she said. “I am really lucky in that sense. But they were getting close to paying off their first mortgage. You don’t want to send your kid to a school they don’t like, but they shouldn’t have to pay that much money.”

Indeed. As always, parents should follow EphBlog’s advice to shelter as much money as possible away from the prying eyes of college financial aid officials. Remember: The College is not your friend. Most important tips: No money in the child’s name, maximize all retirement accounts, pay off the mortgage.

An said she felt that the College was squeezing out the middle class with their financial aid policies.

“I have such a negative impression of them,” she said. “Williams says they want students who are diverse, but I guess I’m not socioeconomically diverse enough for them. But you’re not supposed to complain, because if you’re not on financial aid then it must mean that your family can afford it.”

Indeed. Although I think that An may be misunderstanding why the College does what it does.

The College is a bureaucratic institution first and foremost. (Side note: I need to write a post entitled “See Like a College” that is a riff on James Scott‘s ’58 Seeing Like A State.) It is not that An is not “socioeconomically diverse enough” for Williams. It is that Williams measures socioeconomic diversity in a specific way: Did neither of your parents graduate from a 4 year college? If you answer Yes, you provide socio-economic diversity. If you answer No, you do not.

Ashley Graves ’15 also said that her experience with financial aid had not been a positive one.

“The people who work in financial aid are nice and relatively helpful, but they can’t do anything about the financial obligations the College expects from its students,” she said.

Correct. These policies are set by the Administration. Don’t blame Paul Boyer and his crew.

Graves has had to take out additional loans beyond the College’s maximum $16,000.

“Every year since freshman year, I’ve taken out the maximum amount of loans,” she said. “It will be $26,500 by the time I graduate, plus the computer loan, which is an extra $2000.”

Graves says she has to work three jobs to get by – as well as to help support her family.

“I came into sophomore year working three jobs,” she said. “I constantly felt like I had to be earning money to support myself. The other thing is that I’m an athlete, and sports aren’t cheap. If I need sneakers, competition shoes, doctor’s visits, proper gear and proper things to maintain my health – that’s ridiculously expensive. I felt like I was always working. Everything just broke down. My friendships suffered, my grades suffered, my relationships suffered, but God forbid I miss a day of work. I was always on time for work.”

Kudos to Graves for sharing her story and to Bender for great reporting.

Graves added that the burden on her family has been enormous.

“I’m just trying to figure out where the money is going,” she said. “I feel like as one of two teenagers from a single parent household, I should be getting more aid. It’s a burden on me and it’s a burden on my family.”

This is the end of my commentary, but Bender really ought to write a series of articles on this topic because we need more details. How, exactly, does the process work? How did Williams decide that Graves only gets $X of aid while another students get $Y? Presumably, the College thinks that Graves’s single parent ought to contribute more dollars than she can, in fact, contribute or that Graves thinks she ought to contribute. But we need to understand the exact details by which these determinations are made. Walk us through the various forms, provide copies of forms (perhaps with names redacted) that students submitted, compare the awards received and so on.

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Record Article on Financial Aid III

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 3:

One of the programs that promotes economic diversity at the College is the College’s relationship with QuestBridge, an organization that helps match low-income students with colleges and universities. QuestBridge scholars who are “matches” have their tuition for all four years paid for by the college. There are usually around 10 or fewer matches in each class year.

Alejandra Moran-Olivas ’17 is one such match scholar. “If you’re a match scholar, you have a full ride for all four years, regardless of any changing financial need,” she said. “For people that are not matches, it just depends on their financial need.”

Whoa! I never knew that. Did you? Has it been reported in the past? In essence, Questbridge students have a much better deal than non-Questbridge students. Perhaps this helps to explain why Harvard refuses to participate in Questbridge. Bender should have pushed harder on this point, quizzing financial aid officials at Williams about the basic unfairness of such a distinction.

Consider two students, both from poor families, one admitted via Questbridge and one not. Both get full rides their freshmen year. Then both suffer the loss of a grandparent, whose modest house is sold as part of the estate for $100,000. The Questbridge student still gets a full ride sophomore year. The non-Questbridge student does not. The College expects her family to spend around 1/3 of their post tax income. So, even though they are dirt poor and expect virtually zero income in future years, the College will want a bunch of money this year.

Conclusion: Tell every poor but smart 17 year-old you know to sign up for Questbridge. It can’t hurt and it might help a great deal.

Jonathon Burne ’17 is another match scholar. He served as liason between QuestBridge and the College last year.

“The difference between a match scholar and a non-match scholar isn’t drastically different, except that the match family has to have an estimated family contribution of zero,” Burne said. “If a family can contribute even 400 dollars, they’re automatically disqualified from match. So most Quest Scholars aren’t in the situation where they will need to take out loans.”

Interesting. It would be great to get more details. Googling around, I don’t see this stipulation on the Questbridge website. (Pointers welcome.) Bender could write an article with all the under-publicized/secret details about the Questbridge process because she, obviously, has access to some excellent Williams sources. Lots of people, inside and outside of Williams, would read that article.

Moran-Olivas said that her experience with financial aid at the College has been extremely positive. The only contribution she is required to make is the $1000 required of Quest scholars each summer.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to find jobs during the summer,” she said. “I try to earn as much money as possible to pay the contribution. So far, I’ve only been at home while I work, so my mom can still support me while I work.”

We need more than anecdotes. Why not conduct a student survey?

Burne also said that his experience with financial aid had been positive, but added that the College might do more to clarify the process for low-income students.

“The financial aid process is somewhat ambiguous,” he said. “Most of us have never had to deal with these kinds of bills, or huge amounts of money. It’s complex and not very easy to understand. Maybe they could do more work to present it in a more accessible way.”

Never assume that the College, or any large institution, is your friend. The College is not your friend. The College does not, necessarily, want to make things clear or “easy to understand.” The College actively misleads you about all sorts of things, especially things related to admissions.

In this particular case, the lack of clarity could be a simple oversight. Maybe Williams wants students like Burne to better understand the process. But Williams has had decades to better explain the process. Williams is run by very smart people. Where is the web page that you would point students like Burne towards? This isn’t it.

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Record Article on Financial Aid II

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 2:

When students apply to the College, admissions are “need-blind,” meaning that the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students. However, this is not the case for international students, and the College does assess the family’s ability to pay when admitting international students. There are currently 85 international students on financial aid at the College.

Again, Bender needs to provide us with more context. How many international students are at Williams in total? How does the percentage on financial aid among international students compare to the percentage among US students? How has this percentage changed over time? Comments:

1) According to the latest Common Data set, Williams has 147 international students. (Note that this is last year’s data and Bender is (probably!) giving us this year’s.) So, there are 62 international students at Williams who get non financial aid. Wow! That is a huge change (I think). I believe that, when we discussed this at EphBlog several years ago, virtually every international student was on almost a full ride. Correct?

2) As you (should!) know, Williams has a shameful quota for international students. I had hoped that Falk might do something about that. So far, no luck.

3) Although I hate the quota against international admissions, I have no problem with not being need-blind for international applicants. First, the whole need-blind scheme is annoying and unfair, for all the usual reasons. Second, it is even more annoying and unfair with international students because it is impossible for Williams to accurately judge the income and wealth of students outside the US. So, we shouldn’t try to do it.

First, the College does not have the resources to deal with tax forms in other languages. Do you read Bengali? Do you think that the College should hire someone who does?

Second, accuracy (honesty?) on non-US tax forms is of much lower quality. And I don’t blame them! If I were a Chinese citizen, the last thing that I would do would be to be too truthful to the Chinese state.

4) Bender ought to know (and tell her readers!) that this claim is false: “the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students.” Of course it does! First, if you are super rich (and the College thinks that your family might donate enough for another Hollander Hall), you have a huge advantage in admissions. Second, if you are poor, the College gives you an advantage in admissions.

It is hard to fully trust Bender’s other reporting after she makes such a basic error.

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Record Article on Financial Aid I

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 1:

However, many students have expressed concern about their families’ ability to pay tuition, even with their financial aid packages from the College. So here’s how financial aid measures up.

Although the article is good, it is too short. It barely scratches the surface of how the College’s financial aid policy “measures up.” In particular, not a single (adult) critic of the College’s policies is ever quoted or, I bet, even interviewed.

“Economic diversity is the single most important commitment that the College has to the student body,” President Falk said in an interview.

Really? More important than racial diversity? Perhaps we need some measure of commitment to have an intelligent discussion? Anyway, a better reporter would have asked for some statistics at this stage in the interview. For example, how does the economic diversity of Williams today compare to the economic diversity of Williams 30 years ago? That is a hard (but very interesting!) question to answer. Some comments:

1) The college does not focus on (or keep track of?) economic diversity per se. In admissions, it assigns so-called Soc-Ec tags for students from families in which neither parent has a 4-year college degree.

2) It is very hard (impossible?) for the College to focus on economic diversity (meaning family income) during the admissions process because the Common Application does not ask applicants for that data. The College can guess family income by looking at things like high school, zip code, and parent occupation.

3) If we equate Socio-Ec tag 1 with “economic diversity” — which is not unreasonable, I think — then the College has much less commitment to economic diversity than it did a decade ago. (Background on Socio-Ec admissions here.) President Falk generally quotes a one out of seven statistic for the percentage of the class with neither parent completing college. Recall my reporting from 2009:

I e-mailed Morty with some questions, and he kindly replied that the the percentage of first generation students at Williams in the class of 2012 was 21%, a fairly dramatic increase over the 13% in the class of 2008. An 8% change represents about 43 students. So, the College replaced 43 students whose parents went to college with 43 students whose parents did not.

This is either the biggest change in Williams admissions in the past decade or a lot of hype

There is your story, Lauren Bender! Williams has gone from 21% low SES to 14% in the last 5 years! We have decreased our commitment to “economic diversity” by about one third.

Back to the Record article:

“It’s essential to maintaining the relevance of Williams to the world we live in. We’ve never made a higher investment in the history of the College in that financial aid program than we have this year.”

Maybe, depending on how you look at. Certainly the College’s financial aid budget is at record levels. But so is its budget for milk. Williams has never spent more on milk than it does today, not because it is more committed to milk now than it was in 1950, but because the price of milk has risen.

According to President Falk, the College subsidizes even the students who pay full tuition, since the College spends “well over $90,000 each year” per student. When the cost of running the College goes up, as it does each year, tuition goes up.

The College spends a lot of money on a lot of cruft. If we increased Falk’s salary by $2 million, would it be reasonable to say that the “cost” of running Williams has really increased by a $1,000 per student? No. Algebra is not the same thing as truth.

Since the 1997-98 academic year, tuition has gone up from $43,527 to $61,070 (in 2014 dollars). However, the median price for financial aid students has gone down since 1997-98, from $20,518 in 1997 to $12,571 in 2012-13 (also in 2014 dollars). At its lowest, the median price for financial aid students was $8,728 in 2008-09. The median price for aid students has continued to rise each year since then.

Hmmmmm. Where is Bender getting this data? Is she being spoon-fed by the Administration? Presumably, the College has the data for every year. So, Bender ought to get that data and share it with her readers.

“If you’re on financial aid, the actual tuition number really shouldn’t matter to you,” Falk said. “What you are asked to pay for your education depends not on our posted tuition but rather on your family’s estimated ability to contribute.”

Doubtful! I am a Falk-fanboy — and I realize that college presidents can’t be perfect truth-tellers — but this is too much. Williams should not ask any student, financial aid or otherwise, to just “Trust us!” Don’t believe me? Just ask David Weathers ’18.

Entire article below the break, in case it ever vanishes from the web.

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Worshipping at the Shrine of Pell

A loyal reader asks for my comments on this New York Times article.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.

upshot_pell

Lots of rich schools are, unsurprisingly, at the top of these rankings. It is easy to preen if you have a billion dollar endowment. Perhaps naively, I expected Williams to be higher. I am surprised by how well (if that is the word you want to use) Vassar, led by President Cappy Hill ’76, has done. Details on the methodology:

To measure top colleges’ efforts on economic diversity, The Upshot calculated a College Access Index, based on the share of freshmen in recent years who came from low-income families (measured by the share receiving a Pell grant) and on the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families. The following table also shows colleges’ endowment per student, which is a measure of the resources available to colleges. Colleges with a four-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher in 2011-12 are included.

Comments:

1) I find the focus on Pell Grants deeply suspect. First, international students are not eligible. So, a school that with 50% of it students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. Second, it is not obvious that Pell Grant eligibility is a good measure of economic diversity. Would the child of a rich (but retired) parents be included? I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

2) The numbers are suspect. The key phrase is “net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.” See the methodological details. (Kudos for transparency.) Also, the raw data seems off. Vassar is at $5,600 but Amherst is $8,400? Impossible! Amherst is much, much richer than Vassar, and is every bit (perhaps even more so) committed to socio-economic diversity as Vassar. Why would they charge poor families 50% more than Amherst does? I believe that the authors got the numbers correctly from IPEDS, I just doubt the quality of the underlying data.

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First Days

The First Years arrive today. Welcome to Williams!

The 274 women and 272 men who make up the Williams College Class of 2018 will arrive on campus on August 25 for First Days, their official orientation to the college.

SATs for the cohort averaged 727 on the verbal test and 713 on math. The class is also diverse. Thirty-eight percent of students in the incoming class are U.S. students of color, and nearly 9 percent are international students. The 546 students in this year’s class come from 41 states and represent 38 foreign countries. Forty-seven percent of the class is receiving financial aid, with an average aid package of $47,285.

1) Here is the schedule.

2) Isn’t 1440 combined SAT scores a step up from the recent past? Classes of 2008 and 2009 were 1413 and 1425.

3) 9% are international. Regular readers will recall that the quota for international students is an EphBlog perennial. 9% is better than the 6% quota of 2005, but we were already at 9% in 2008, so there has been no progress over the last 6 years, despite the fact that Williams is no longer need-blind for international applicants.

4) Only 47% of the class is receiving aid. In 2008, it was 50%, but I seem to recall numbers in the low 50s a few years ago.

So, the class of 2018 is richer and smarter than . . . any Williams class in history?!

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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Lavish Financial Aid Packages

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 stick 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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Williams Lies to International Applicants

Inside Higher Ed reports on the difficulties of enrolling poor, but qualified students: the more you accept, the less tuition money you have to run the school.

Williams used to be able pretend to be above these sort of base calculations. We were need-blind for everyone! But that changed last year when the College decided to go need-aware for international students.

But you know what the best part is? Williams College is still lying to international students about its financial aid policies.

Williams meets 100% of demonstrated need of every student admitted, and makes admission decisions without regard to an applicant’s financial background.

Isn’t that outrageous? Now, surely, you would think that, even if William is somewhat misleading on its main admissions page, it must admit the sordid truth in the detailed FAQ. You would be wrong.

Williams has a need-blind admission policy. This means your family’s financial circumstances will play no role in our decision regarding your application. We are free to admit the most qualified and promising students without regard for their ability to pay. We consider financial support money well spent—an investment in the overall quality of our student body. The more exceptional your peers, the better your education will be.

Again, will any reader defend this sleaze? Honesty and transparency is a bedrock principal of academic life. It may be reasonable (and I now think it is) to be need-aware for internationals. (Indeed, I think Williams should be need-aware for everyone.) But there is no excuse for lying about it.

But surely, you argue, Williams must have a small-print disclaimer to cover itself from these sorts of accusations. Just read the fine print in the page devoted to international applicants. Alas, you would be wrong again:

A contributing factor to this diversity of nationalities is our generous aid policy for international students. We meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need of every student admitted to Williams. Exceptionally talented international candidates typically will be admitted regardless of their degree of need. Since the ability to pay for a Williams education is no guarantee of admission, as Williams attracts a highly qualified pool of international applicants each year, we strongly recommend that any international student who might require financial aid at any time during the four years at Williams apply for aid initially. We cannot guarantee that a student will qualify for aid in subsequent years if an aid application was not submitted prior to the first year.

This isn’t just we-made-an-honest-mistake-and-forgot-to-mention-the-new-policy sleaze. This is we-are-actively-trying-to-mislead-international-applicants sleaze.

Contrary opinions welcome.

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Why Williams Changed Its Financial Aid Policies

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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Million Dollar Ephman

Future Eph Theo Pippins ’14 qualified for a million dollars worth of scholarships … $1.3 million to be exact (too bad he can’t keep the change ):

“I didn’t know the exact total until graduation; it was a surprise for me too,” he explained.

It was for his mom, Linda as well. “I was overjoyed at the amount. I had no idea they would say that, I just about jumped out of my chair.”

So how did he do it? “You just have to start early and really be motivated, just start looking. There are scholarships for everyone.”

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Other schools not planning to follow Williams

Few schools backing off “no loan” pledges

When both Williams and Dartmouth colleges announced over winter that they would retreat from from pledges to fund full student need through grant aid alone, it seemed more than possible that other schools would follow.

A new survey, however, suggests that most colleges with “full-need” pledges do not plan to abandon or even weaken them.

The Institute for College Access & Success surveyed 52 schools with pledges to meet the full demonstrated financial need and to either limit or eliminate loans from those packages. They found no other school planning major changes in their policies in the next two years.

Here is a list of the schools and their pledges.

Continue reading

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Shadiest Possible

Some readers took me to task for describing the College’s timing of the end of international need-blind admissions as “sleazy.” Well, don’t just ask me. Ask some students:

Honestly, WTF? Whether revoking need-blind was necessary or not, it seems like Bill Wagner picked the shadiest possible way to implement this.

Wait…they seriously already did it?

“begin to admit international students somewhat differently than we have in recent years, beginning with the class entering this fall.” -Bill Wagner, Feb. 16 2010

Holy shit. I missed that entirely. I feel absolutely violated.

Indeed. Here is what the College still says on its admissions webpage:

International students follow essentially the same procedures as all other students in applying for admission to Williams. No special admission form is required. A candidate’s cultural background and international experiences are highlighted positively in the selection process, as Williams continues its historic commitment to cultural diversity on campus. Williams is committed to a need-blind admission policy toward all applicants and will meet the full demonstrated financial need of all students, both domestic and international.

It is not a problem for Williams to delay updating its webpage if any changes will only apply to the class of 2015, i.e., those students applying next fall. The sleazy aspect is that Williams has changed this policy retroactively, applying it to members of the class of 2014, applicants who applied, at least partially, on a promise from Williams that their applications would be treated need-blind.

Breaking promises is sleazy and shady. If Williams is (correctly!) holding off on the change in loans to the class of 2015, why isn’t it doing the same on the change to international need-blind admissions?
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In Perpetuity

Parent ’12 highlighted this 2003 news release.

Williams College President Morton Owen Schapiro is pleased to announce a $5 million gift from Edgar M. Bronfman ’50 to help extend need-blind admission to all international applicants to the college.

Last year Williams announced plans to admit qualified international students regardless of their families’ abilities to pay and to promise to meet 100 percent of their financial need for four years. Such need-blind admission previously was restricted to applicants from the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Financial aid funds for other overseas students was limited. International students currently comprise 7 percent of the undergraduate population at Williams.

1) Bill Wagner wrote that the College was moving back to need-awareness for internationals and, in a private e-mail, Jim Kolesar confirmed that the new rules would apply to all non US citizens confirmed that Williams will continue to treat Permanent Residents the same as US citizens. So, the people that have been most screwed by the changes over the last decade are applicants from Canada and the Caribbean. They started out as being treated just like US students and will now be treated just like students from China or Bulgaria. Harsh!

2) What does Edgar Bronfman ’50 think about all this? The Record ought to call him and find out. I assume that the College has handled all the accounting fairly. Bronfman’s donation is still sitting in the endowment, with its income dedicated toward international admissions. (Does anyone understand the details of how that works at Williams?) It is just that the income is not enough given the relentless rise in tuition.

Bronfman’s gift is only the latest in his and his family’s ongoing commitment to international exchange and understanding at Williams. Last year alone, the Bronfman Family Fund made it possible for 10 foreign students to attend the college and for four Williams students to study abroad.

Hmm. As always, the details would be interesting to know. Is the Bronfman Family Fund a complete separate non-profit from Williams? Does it give these scholarships every year?

“Edgar Bronfman shares with the college and trustees the dream of making Williams a truly international institution” Schapiro said. “His generous gift will help us endow our international scholarship program in perpetuity and guarantee that Williams remains a world-class institution.”

I am not sure if “in perpetuity” means what naive readers think it means . . .

Financial aid for international students also was boosted by a significant portion of a $7.4 million anonymous commitment announced in October.

Just how much endowment money is dedicated to international financial aid?

UPDATE: This post has been edited in an attempt to raise my grade. Does this get me at least an A-?

UPDATE II: Correction about Permanent Residents made above. Thanks to ebaek for the pointer.

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Words Versus Actions

This is the third of 6 posts discussing details of the College’s recent decision to end need-blind admissions for international applicants. Previous entries here and here.

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?
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When did the financial aid policy change?

One of the interesting subtleties in end of need-blind admissions for international students is the timing. When will/did the policy change? According to the (reliable?) Chronicle of Higher Education:

Williams College must alter its need-blind admissions process for international students beginning this fall because of the college’s “changed financial situation,” said its interim president, Bill Wagner, in a letter released yesterday.

Sensible enough. Students applying in the fall of 2010 (i.e., for the class of 2015) are subject to the new policy, just as the new loan requirements apply to them as well. The Record, however, has a more accurate description.

On Tuesday, Interim President Wagner sent out an all-campus e-mail announcing that the College will be moving to a need-aware admission policy for the Class of 2014’s international applicants.

The policy change actually applies to students who sent in their applications last December! Isn’t that sort of sleazy? The College told international students two months ago: “Apply to Williams! We won’t consider your financial need!” Applicants made decisions, both about where to apply and where not to apply, based on those promises. And now, with no warning, the College changes its mind. “Whoops! Sorry! We realize that we promised you something in December, but tough luck.” Record reporter Katy Gathright should have sought quotes from Nesbitt, Just, et al on this point.

Also, look closely at Wagner’s letter:

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.

But Williams has already admitted, as part of early decision, some international students for the class of 2014. We admitted them in December, including two students from Daewon. Were they admitted need-blind or need-aware?

Of course, this is not a major aspect of the larger debate. But details are important. It was unfair of the College to change its policy after applicants had already applied. We ought to hold off on any changes until the class of 2015. Would anyone disagree?

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Treat Them Equally

The decision to end need-blind admissions for international students merits further discussion. But, since there are so many components to the issue, I will break the conversation about into discrete parts, each taking place at noon over the next week or so. (If there are specific aspects you want to discuss, please list them in the comments.)

Let’s start with fundamentals. Why does Williams treat international students differently from domestic ones? From WSO:

You have no more control over the place of your birth than you do over your gender, race, class, or (arguably) your sexual orientation. You probably have more control over your gender than you do over your citizenry. Bearing this in mind, it is pathetic and shameful that the need-blind policy has been removed for international students. …

If the college decided to remove need-blind admission for women, everyone would be up in arms about it, and it would be an outrage, yet it’s fine when we do it to international students. This is the minority group on campus whose voice is probably heard least, and the College took advantage of that in removing this policy for them. …

Claiming Williams is supposed to be about a commitment to understand others and treat them equally, but the administration’s commitment is really not that strong. Rather, it is not strong enough to to be saved from budget cuts. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Amherst should be lauded for their true commitments.

Indeed.

1) I could understand if Williams decided to maintain need-blind admissions for everyone. This would be expensive, but cuts could be made elsewhere. I could understand if Williams decided to eliminate need-blind admissions for everyone. This might hurt applications and enrollment decisions, but there is a financial crisis. What I can’t understand is how/why Williams can treat international and domestic students differently when it comes to need-blind. Can someone explain it to me?

2) Now, whatever explanations one offers, could they not also apply to other groupings of students? Because the competition is so fierce for African-American students, the College could stay need-blind for them but not for white students. Because sports are so important at Williams, the College could stay need-blind for athletes but not for non-athletes. Because alumni have, as a group, contributed so much to Williams, the College should stay need-blind for legacies but not for non-legacies.

Once Williams discriminates on basis X, what is the reasoning that precludes it from discriminating on basis Y or Z? The (temporary?) preferences of the current Administration is a lousy reason.

3) In the past, I have argued against the quota for international students. Reasonable Ephs can and do disagree with that view. For example, it is plausible to believe that a Williams without the quota would become 50% international and that this would lead many desirable US students not to come to Williams. Yet the case of need-blind versus need-aware is fairly different. Either way, Williams will be 8% international. Why would one use a different need standard for US versus domestic students?

4) I don’t know the history as well as I should, but the most relevant historical comparison is with the discrimination against Jews by elite colleges 75 years ago. I would not be surprised (citations welcome!), if colleges then made financial aid awards on the basis fn the applicant’s religion. “After all,” the thinking would have gone, “Williams was founded by Christians as a school for Christians with an emphasis on teaching the Christian gospel. Shouldn’t our limited resources be focused on Christian students? Jews should be treated differently.”

How does Wagner’s decision differ from such thinking?

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A question about finances

Roughly how much has Williams spent on major construction projects replacing or massively renovating existing buildings in the last decade?

Since we’re now at a point where the cuts are starting to hurt, with raises on hold for faculty, a hiring freeze on staff (along with headcount-reduction-by-attrition?), a couple million saved by going back to loans, another million by getting rid of need blind admissions, etc., I would like to get a sense of how much cash Williams sank into replacing Baxter, replacing the Adams Memorial Theater, semi-replacing Stetson-Sawyer, and major renovations to buildings like Mission and Morgan. What, at the end of the day, was the cost of all that construction during the bubble years?

Any ballpark estimates or educated guesses would be much appreciated.

If, for any reason, you don’t feel comfortable commenting in the thread below, please email me at ronitb at gmail dot com. Your anonymity will be protected.

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Williams Ends Need-Blind Admissions for Internationals

To the Williams Community,

Financial aid has been much on the minds of members of the Williams community as we have thought about ways to control the growth in its cost that would align with the great value we place on having a diverse community.

The process of setting the College’s price is complicated and at odds with how the world generally works. Since we live with this system every day, we tend to forget that outside of Williams and a small number of similar colleges, there may be no business or organization that charges for its goods or services only what an individual can afford to pay. That is amazing. (More so when you consider that even the top price that is charged covers only about half of what the College spends per student.)

The system has worked remarkably well. We have been able to make the benefits of a Williams education accessible to strong students from all economic backgrounds. And, while parents do make sacrifices to send their children here, when we ask them if it was worth it, 98% say yes.

As astonishing as this system already was, it became more so when a few years ago we dropped loans from all aid packages and began to admit all international students without regard to their ability to pay.

We could take those steps because our endowment had been growing at quite an amazing rate. Since that is no longer the case and apparently will not be the case again anytime soon, the College has needed to cut expenses virtually everywhere. Given the value we place on affordability, the only exception has been financial aid, which grew again this year (by about 12%) and will grow next year.

What we have explored are ways to control the growth in overall spending on financial aid that would be consonant with our commitment to broad financial accessibility. One way was to reintroduce modest loans in the aid packages of some students. Families with low incomes will still not be expected to borrow. 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.

Until the Class of 2006, Williams each year maintained two pools of international applicants: those who had applied for aid and those who had not. We admitted only a few who had applied for aid. All other admitted international applicants were among those who could pay the full fee. For the last several years we admitted international applicants without regard to their ability to pay. We also let the percentage of international students in the class drift up to a range of 5% to 8% (though one year it topped out at 9%); any higher would have been financially unsustainable. This enabled us to matriculate a cohort of international students with significantly more presence and diversity, to the great advantage of us all.

But as a result, the cost of international aid in the last decade rose by more than 200% (more than $4 million). In the College’s changed financial situation, that rate of growth is unsustainable. One way to reduce it would be to have fewer international students. But no one wants that and no one wants it to be the case that all of our international students are able to pay the full fee.

The way to avoid either of those outcomes is to use intelligently some form of need-awareness for international applicants. This does not mean going back to the two-pool system in place before the Class of 2006. It also does not mean that the Financial Aid Office will compute the need of each international aid applicant and the Admission Office will then admit the most desirable international applicants until the aid runs out.

The Admission Office will know which applicants have applied for aid, as it does now, but will not know the level of each applicant’s need. The office will then look at the international pool as a whole and aim to build an entering cohort that is not only academically strong but that is geographically and economically diverse and that in terms of aid approximates a rough dollar target that will begin where it is now and grow over the years at a rate slower than it has been. This new system should result in entering cohorts of international students that roughly resemble the one that we are blessed with now and at a rate of cost increase that is sustainable. When four classes have been admitted this way the increase in our international aid budget should be about $1.2 million less than it would have been. We do not expect this change to affect dramatically the pool of international applicants, which is extremely strong.

I understand how unsettling it is for many members of our community to have to contemplate altering our aid practices somewhat. Even with the changes we have adopted, however, the system by which Williams determines how much to charge aided families will still be among the most generous in the history of higher education, as it should be, and among the most amazing anywhere in the broad economy. And we will continue to serve and to benefit from a wonderful and diverse community of students.

With regards,

Bill Wagner
Interim President

My comments later.

In other news, Williams is bringing back the quota for Jewish students.

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Middlebury Changes Tuition Policy

In a bold move, particularly in this climate, Middlebury has now placed a ceiling on tuition increases at one percent above CPI.  I am surprised that Midd can afford to do this given its much smaller endowment than Williams and Amherst.  I like this policy because it forces the type of cost-consciousness, on a permanent basis, that has led to some creative thinking about spending patterns on campus.  Moreover, it does seem like tuition can’t rise at the current rate forever … I mean at some point, maybe at 70k a year, maybe at 100 (which isn’t that far off at current rates of increase) the sticker shock will become just too much to bear.  I am not sure I’d put such a policy in place right now given everything that is being cut already, but as a long term policy goal, it makes a ton of sense.  Moreover, if other peers follow, Williams will have no choice but to join in.

On the downside, this policy seriously hinders a college’s ability to price discriminate by soaking the richest families, who may be able to afford extraordinarily high tuition increases, and diverting those extra revenues to financial aid students.  Midd never went no-loans in the first place, but I’d be surprised if, in the event Midd’s peers don’t match this policy, Midd can viably compete for middle and upper middle class students who qualify for financial aid.  On the plus side, this should really help Midd with the substantial portion of upper middle class students who just miss out on financial aid, but for whom 50k plus in tuition represents a substantial burden on their families.  Ideally, I’d like to see this policy AND no loans, but I’d rather see the return of no loans, first.

Not long after President Falk takes office, he’ll no doubt start talking with the Board of Trustees about themes for the next fund drive.  Were I creating a “wish list” in soliciting major donations, this bullet point would be near the top (it’s a very appealing sell … and would also take a massive donation to make happen).  Generally, I’d seek donations that could, in no particular order:

  • enable CPI-adjusted caps on tuition increases
  • resume no-loans and secure need-blind for internationals going forward
  • secure competitive salaries and benefits for the expanded faculty, without cutting back on visitors (and maybe even toss in DK’s teaching awards to boot), plus adding a few particularly distinguished visitors who are renowned for their teaching abilities (perhaps a Williams version of the Baylor teaching award / visitorship that Professor Burger just won)
  • accelerate the completion of Stetson-Sawyer and Weston (maybe via naming rights for portions of each project)
  • continue to improve socioeconomic diversity of the student body
  • fund long-overdue major improvements to the athletic facilities (the field house and Chandler / Lasell in particular)
  • add additional coops for senior housing in light of the slightly expanded student body, so as to maintain a comfortable volume of campus housing without cutting into common space
  • create endowed funds for continuous integration of new technology into campus and alumni life (generally improving both alumni relations and the college’s brand by making campus events more accessible via the web, more creative web outreach to alumni and prospectives, etc.  Given Williams’ location, it should always be ahead of the curve when it comes to technological outreach, and that has not been the case in recent years)
  • diversify social life on campus via dedicated endowed funding of creative event, speaker and performance series at the Log, Paresky, Goodrich, Chapin and potentially (if feasible) an improved multi-purpose field house that is flexible enough to accommodate campus-wide music / entertainment events on the occasional weekend evening.  I don’t know of any Williams peer that has anything close to the variety and caliber of student-life spaces on campus … I believe that the best way (a) to compensate for Williams’ location and (b) to address the concerns about the prominence of alcohol in social life, the best (and maybe only) option is to make sure the funding is there when students are motivated to use those spectacular spaces in creative fashion, creating a wider variety of campus events that appeal to all types of students.
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Not Worth That Much

From the Wall Street Journal:

Facing shrunken savings and borrowing options, parents and students are making some tough trade-offs in choosing and paying for college, suggesting some shifting attitudes toward higher education may endure beyond the recession.

Old dreams of adult children earning degrees from elite, door-opening colleges or “legacy” schools attended by relatives are falling away in some families, in favor of a new pragmatism.

But now, “families are much more price-conscious and value-conscious,” Dr. Losco says. A soon-to-be-released Sallie Mae-Gallup study of 1,600 college students and their parents, conducted in March and April, says parents are increasingly anxious about tuition—and students are more skeptical about the value of a degree, compared with the survey from a year earlier.

Chelsea Thomas’s family was proud when she enrolled at Amherst College, in Amherst, Mass., and had an academically rich freshman year. Having a child at Amherst confers “bragging rights,” says Suzanne Thomas, Chelsea’s aunt who shares the college costs with the student’s mother.

When Chelsea’s scholarship expired after her first year, the family faced coming up with $26,000 to keep her at Amherst. That would have meant digging deep into savings that had been set aside for retirement, says her mother, Shelley Thomas.
Whatever It Takes

Relatives and friends pressured them, saying Chelsea “should do whatever it takes to continue” at Amherst, says Suzanne. Instead, the family decided that Chelsea would be happier as a financially independent young adult living close to family. Chelsea returned to the family’s home in Boulder, Colo., last year and became a partner in the real-estate-investment business that her mother and aunt own jointly.

Now 20 years old, Chelsea co-owns two rental houses and is working on a bachelor’s degree at a nearby public university. Chelsea says she misses her Amherst friends and the stimulating campus environment. Still, she adds, a degree from a top school “is worth a lot, but it’s not worth that much.”

True of Amherst, certainly!

;-)

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Dartmouth Goes Loans Again

Is Dartmouth Following Williams’ lead?

We will continue to provide free tuition and no loan expectations for students with family incomes of $75,000 a year or less. For financial-aid recipients from families with incomes above $75,000, we will be re-instituting a loan requirement of approximately $2,500-$5,500 a year beginning with the Class of 2015, whose members will enter in fall 2011.

1) Exercise for the reader: Calculate the marginal tax rate of a family making $74,000. Will there really be a bright-shining line at $75,000 exactly?

2) $2,500-$5,500 is a huge range. Just how is that calculated? I thought (corrections welcome) that Williams, back when it required loans, just set a maximum. If you needed $1,000 — after accounting for your savings, EFC and so on — then that is what you borrowed. If you needed $10,000, then Williams gave you a grant of X to bring the loan down to the maximum, which was at around $3,000 (?) a few years ago.

So, describing a range rather than a maximum is interesting. Comments? It certainly provides Dartmouth with a lot “flexibility” in matching offers from other schools.

3) How do you think Williams will structure its program? How do you think it should? The more faculty members that I talk to (and I have communicated with almost 10 on the topic), the more responsive I become to their concerns about “rich” families getting a deal from Williams, about families “scamming” the system. The current mechanism is awful imprecise and suspect, as we have documented in great detail.

Up till now, I have been a big defender of the system purely on competitive grounds. I want the best students to choose Williams. If Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford/Dartmouth/Amherst offer a better deal to student X, she is likely to take it. In that world, Williams would only win the yield battle among rich kids. Every non-rich student would turn us down for one of those schools.

Solution? Cut the Gordian Knot of need-blind admissions, which is a Big Lie anyway. No elite school is truly need-blind since all feature development admits. The whole scheme is sleazy and ripe for abuse. Instead, admit that Williams is family-income aware, but then match any financial aid offer from an elite school. This would focus our financial aid spending on precisely the students who deserve it. Students not talented/desirable enough to get an admissions offer from another elite school would still be offered a financial aid package, but it would feature 1990-levels of generosity: tens of thousands in loans.

What say our readers to such a plan?

Also:

Separately, I [Dartmouth President Kim] have joined Carol Folt, Acting Provost and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, and Steven Kadish, Senior Vice President, in donating 10 percent of our salaries to be split between the Dartmouth College Fund and a hardship fund. The hardship fund will assist those with financial difficulties not met through our other programs such as layoff packages or our staff loan program.

Morty was never the sort of guy who would donate 10% of his salary. Is Bill Wagner?

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