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Reports From Williams

Inspired by John Wilson’s ’64 masterful organization of the Williams Form 990s, this post serves as a repository of the document that Williams sends to all alumni each fall, generally titled “A Report from Williams YYYY”. Huge thanks to the Alumni Office, especially Director of Communications Rob White, for providing most of these documents. We will update this listing each year.

Some of the reports had specific themes, including special subtitles. Some don’t. In general, the most interesting portions are the descriptions of the College’s spending and endowment policies.

A Report from Williams 2008.

A Report From Williams 2007.

A Report From Williams 2006: Teaching at Williams: An Enduring Ideal.

A Report From Williams 2005: Financial Aid: There is a reason Hopkins Gate is always open.

A Report From Williams 2004. (Apologies for the size/location of this file but it is too big to store at EphBlog. Could someone please do some Adobe magic to turn this into a smaller pdf?)

A Report From Williams 2003: The Williams Campaign.

A Report From Williams 2001-2002: Celebrating the Performing Arts.

A Report From Williams (for 2001).

I don’t think that similar reports were filed in the 90s. But surely the College provided some sort of basic financial information to alumni. Does anyone know where we might find that?


Report from Williams 2006

Inspired by John Wilson’s ’64 masterful organization of the Williams Form 990s, I am going to try to do the same with the annual reports to alumni. But first I need to gather them! Here is A Report From Williams 2006. We have discussed the reports from 2002 and 2008 in the past. Big thanks to the Alumni Office for providing these to me. Questions:

1) Does anyone have copies of the reports from other years handy?

2) Does anyone see anything interesting in the 2006 Report? I’ll just note how Michael R. Eisenson ’77 and Sarah Keohane Williamson ’84 have since been promoted from the the Investment Committee the main Board of Trustees. Again, my predictions for similar promotions next year are one or more of Halvorsen ‘86, Boutwell ‘74 and Graham ‘82.


More Socially Mobile

In “A Report from Williams 2008“, President Schapiro praises a variety of changes at the College, noting that:

Williams students are now. . . [m]ore socially mobile, as more Williams students are the first in their families to attend college.

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. Unsurprisingly, I think it is a bit of both.

1) If this isn’t the biggest change what is? One option would be the dramatic tightening of admissions standards for athletes. (Overview here. That post and the resulting discussion caused a trustee to, literally, yell at me. The cross that I bear for you loyal readers!) There are about 50 students in each class at Williams today (almost all athletic tips) who would not be here if the old policy were still in place. Instead of having football players who average 1400 on the SATs, we would have different (slightly better) football players who average 1300.

Another option for the biggest change is the increase in international students, rising about 50% in this time period. But the raw number of students is only about 15 more per class.

Given the analysis below, I think that both these changes are more substantively important that the increase in first generation students.

2) Thanks to Morty for providing that data, via the always wonderful Chris Winters ’95, Director of Institutional Research. See the bottom of this post for my e-mail to Morty. I constructed my request (with help from Chris) to be trivial for Williams to answer, should it choose to. Morty’s preference was to provide the two data points above — he feels an affirmative obligation to back up his public claims — but not to answer my more detailed requests. And that’s OK! I would always like the College to be more transparent, but Morty’s chosen level of transparency is a reasonable one.

3) Regular readers will recall that I am suspicious of these sorts of claims, doubtful that the socio-economic status of Williams students today is that much different than that of a decade or more ago. Recall my previous discussion of the data released by Williams to the Senate.

In 1998, the 426th poorest US student at Williams had a family income of around $64,000. In 2008, the 495th poorest US student had a family income of $72,000, which equals $55,000 in 1998 dollars because of inflation. And this ignores the fact that US family income has been rising, so $64,000 in constant dollars is lower relative to the US median family income in 2008 then it was in 1998. I still need to do a full analysis, but there is no evidence that Williams was, to any large extent, less the rich family’s school in 2008 then it was in 1998. “First generation college” is not the same thing as “poor.”

The fact that Morty declines to make the data available to refute that conclusion — data that could be made public at no cost — is, I think, significant.

4) Morty makes no claims about family income in the Report. He uses the number of first generation college students as the metric. Key here is the precise definition of “first generation.” For Williams, this variable is measured using the “Socio-Ec 1” tag that admissions officers apply to applications. See here for extensive discussion. Chris Winters confirms that a) This tag, called “SEC1” by the cognoscenti, is a) Assigned by the Admissions Office, b) requires that neither parent have a BA (although they may have attended college and/or have an associate degree), and c) requires that the student check the box for requesting financial aid.

All those are key points. Consider the confusion in this thread on College Confidential. No one seems to know that you won’t be considered first generation at Williams unless you check the financial aid box.

Note how the College is defining mobility downward. Back in the day, the phrase “first in their families to attend college” meant, you know, being the first person in your family to attend college. If your Dad went to Harvard for a year and dropped out, you were not first generation. Now, you are. Also, why the hate against associate degrees? If someone graduates from high school, goes to college for two years, and completes an Associates degree, isn’t she a college graduate? Of course, she is. Moreover, the concept of first generation college used to imply poor. Now, it does not. Even if your family makes $100,000 or more, Williams will still label you as SEC1, as long as you check the financial aid box.

All of this makes Williams sound much more diverse in terms of student background then it actually is. Williams can label 21% of the students in the class of 2012 as “first in their families to attend college,” but the reality of their backgrounds does not match with the picture that the phrase generates in the heads of Morty’s intended audience. Consider a student whose mom is a nurse and whose dad is a loan officer in the local bank. Both have associate degrees. The family income is $150,000. They live in a nice suburb. Is that the sort of family that you think of when Morty says, “first in their families to attend college?”

5) it is tough to get a sense of the other changes that may have influenced this increase. The Common Data Set reveals that there were 46 international students in the class of 2012, compared to 31 in the class of 2008. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan of this increase. Kudos to Morty!) Many/most (all?) of these international students will be classified of SEC1. So, the 43 student increase in SEC1 is at least partly driven by the increase in international students. Morty declined to break the SEC1 data down by nationality.

Also, it is hard to be sure that the definition of SEC1 has stayed constant, either in description or in application. Recall this discussion from Lindsay Taylor’s ’05 thesis.

The Director of Admissions, Richard Nesbitt, stated that the definitions [for SEC1 and SEC2] are not always a perfect fit, and in those cases the admissions committee votes on whether or not to apply the attribute.

Hmmm. I am not implying malfeasance on the part of anyone in Admissions. Yet we all feel compelled to give the boss what he wants. Morty wants more SEC1 kids. Let’s give it to him! An individual admissions officer (especially one who is likes applicant X for other attributes) will certainly have every incentive to classify him as SEC1. And the committee as a whole will hardly lack for reasons for classifying those students who are not a “perfect fit” as SEC1. What’s the downside? The more SEC1s that Morty sees, the happier he is. Maybe we won’t have to make so many trips to lousy high schools next year?

Consider the numbers from 2002, the last year that Taylor uses. There were 537 students in the class, there were 79 SEC1 and 17 SEC2. (SEC2 allows one or more parent to have a BA degree but insists that parents are in low-wage occupations.) Either way, that is not so different from the 2008 data that Morty cites. In fact, it is better (15% versus 13%) then the results for 2008. Did Morty spend his first few years at Williams driving down the percentage of SEC1s? That seems unlikely.

6) See this discussion for my thoughts on whether or not increasing the number of SEC1 students should be a high priority.

7) A 43 student increase may not seem like that much, but keep in mind the other categories for admissions. Williams probably did not achieve this increase by getting many more SEC1 tips, SEC1 under-represented minorities or (obviously) SEC1 legacies. So, the denominator to use in measuring the increase is not the 540 students in the class. It is the 300 or so students that are not tips, urms or legacies. That is a 14% increase.

8) I bet that the increase in SEC1 is connected to the increase in Asian American students (49 to 64) over the same time period. The standard result in the literature is that any movement toward class-based affirmative action overwhelmingly benefits Asian-Americans because there are a lot of high quality (scores and grades) applicants from non-rich families, especially immigrants.

My position: 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.

My e-mail to Morty:


Hope all is well. I enjoyed reading your article in “A Report from
Williams 2008.” You mentioned that Williams is: “More socially mobile,
as more Williams students are the first in their families to attend
college.” I have two requests:

1) Would you allow me to see some of the data underlying that claim?

2) Would you allow me to share that data with the wider community? (I
realize that you have better things to do than read EphBlog, but it
turns out that there hundreds of students, alumni and parents who are
interested in these sorts of issues.

I discussed this with Chris Winters (cc’d above) and he indicated that
a) He needed your permission to release the info and b) Gave me advice
on how to structure my request so that it would require the minimum of
his time. (Last thing I want to do is waste Chris’s time.)

I have put the precise request below the break. My hope is that you
will just hit “Reply All” and say “Of course!” And, with any luck, the
resulting conversation will remind you of the discussions we had in
ECON 401 more than 20 years ago.


Dave Kane ’88

Data Request:

1) For the last 6 years, how many “Socio-Ec 1” tagged students (SEC1)
have enrolled at Williams, broken down into domestic versus

2) For the last 6 years, what is the family income 400th (or choose
another level if you like) poorest US student over the last decade?
(This is just a different way of looking at the percentile data that
the College provided in the letter to the Senate. It avoids the
problem of the increasing N of students in financial aid.) In other
words, rank (in increasing order) the family income of all US students
seeking financial aid in a given year and provide the family income of
#400 on that list.

I realize that the College does not give precise track of how many
students are “first generation,” and that even this terminology is not
very well defined, but I think that these two data point will get to
the heart of the issue of social mobility.


Endowment Commentary

The topic of the endowment has come up several times in recent threads. Below are my thoughts. Summary: Williams is in much better shape than many other schools. But, still, its lack of transparency is troubling. The Trustees are meeting this weekend and will, presumably, get a briefing about recent performance. They should ask some hard questions, especially about the value of the College’s investments in private equity and real estate. Given the (probable) state of the College’s finances, they should reject the proposed avail spending of $79 million for 2009-2010 and force the Administration to produce a more responsible budget.
Read more


The Economics of Graduate Programs

This is my fifth post on interesting aspects of “A Report from Williams 2008.” Today, I want to focus on the economics of the two graduate programs that Williams maintains: the Center for Development Economics and the Graduate Program in the History of Art. The College spends $2.9 million on these programs. Given the tough economic times, should we continue to do so?


1) The College seems to provide no financial aid or other assistance for CDE students. Fees to Williams seem to be around $47,000 and there are 24 CDE students this year. Total revenue to the College would be about $1.1 million.

2) The Masters in Art History is a two year program with total fees of around $41,000 with financial aid available, including merit aid. There were 11 graduates last year, so assume 22 students at any one time. Ignoring financial aid, total revenue would equal $0.9 million.

3) Given that the primary (in my view, only) mission of Williams is to be the best undergraduate college in the world, we should shut down both programs. They cost $2.9 million but only generate $2 million (at most) in revenue. In a world of plenty, Williams can afford the extravaganza. But, in a world of limits, these programs — both valuable in-and-of themselves and, indirectly, to a small but non-zero percentage of the undergraduate population — are not worth the money. If the choice is between these programs and lay-offs or decreases in financial aid, then both programs should go.

Consider some counterarguments:

1) You don’t understand the economics. The programs are actually profitable for Williams. Could be! Without better data, it is hard to know for sure. But, back-of-the-envelope, they seem like money losers, at least when considered together. Moreover, it is quite possible that the $2.9 million budget number underestimates the cost. Does that include depreciation for the CDE building? What about a pro rata share of the money that the College spends on libraries, security and so on?

2) Even if you cancel the programs, you won’t save money because the primary cost is faculty and you can’t fire them. Perhaps. And certainly that is true for tenured faculty. But Williams does not need to renew the contracts for lecturers. We can get by with fewer visitors.

3) These programs are a big part about what makes Williams Williams. No, they are not. They are add-ons, appendages slapped on by ambitious faculty members. More than 95% of undergraduates aren’t even aware of them and would not notice if they were gone.


LAC Canary

A useful graphic in the annual update on the endowment tells us how Williams compares to its peers in terms of endowment dollars per student. This is a standard measure of relative institutional wealth.



1) What “students” are counted in this calculation, just undergraduates? Surely not all of Harvard’s endowment is dedicated to the education of undergraduates but, at the same time, undergraduates are not as expensive as business/law students because the latter come close to paying their own way.

2) Keep in mind that this graphic is misleading since it does not take account of debt. To do this calculation properly, you need to subtract each college’s debt from its endowment before dividing by the number of students. Williams has $260 million of debt. There was no reason to take out this debt except to lever up the endowment. That idea (which may or may not have been stupid a priori) cost Williams around $50 million. Thanks Morty!

3) For months, I have claimed that the situation at Williams is much more serious than most people realize and that any attempt to keep the two promises that Morty has made (no lay-offs or changes in financial aid) will require cuts that most readers find unacceptable. Others disagree. Fine! In a year or two, we will know for sure who is right.

But, in the meantime, we can look for evidence either way. If I am right, than other schools will take serious steps, especially schools less wealthy than Williams. Last week, I pointed out that Tufts had given up on need-blind admissions. Counter-argument: Tufts is much less wealthy than Williams. It doesn’t even make the top portion of that list (although it is toward the bottom of the full version.)

If I am right, more and more schools on this list, even schools as wealthy as Williams, will have to make sorts of cuts that Williams has (so far) avoided. If my critics are right, that won’t happen, Morty will keep his promises while Williams maintains its long-term financial health.
Wellesley College, three spots below Williams on the list, just fired 44 employees. Anyone who thinks that we are immune from the forces buffeting Wellesley is ill-informed. They are the canary. We are the miner.

Cool winds I hear,
Of change I fear,
And shiver from the cold.

UPDATE: From a poem by Nevin Steinberg. Title and rest of poem now lost.


Budget Comparison

Larry George suggests:

I would add another methodology that might prove helpful: go back five or ten years until one finds an operating budget that is significantly below the target level of expenditure. Adjust for inflation and then use that model as the platform upon which to build a new realistic budget. If we go back to, say, 2000 levels of expenditures (making adjustments where they obviously have to be made) in the face of an economic crisis, we may not like it, but we can probably live with it, remembering that the college was a strong, wonderful institution in 2000.

Indeed. Consider the College’s spending (pdf) from 1999 to 2002. Click for a clear picture.


Compare that spending with the last 4 years.



1) For now, I am still keeping with the Morty/Trustee position that there are no plans for lay-offs or decreases in financial aid. So, if you want to cut, the main categories above are where you need to start.

2) Although Morty is fine fellow and excellent president, there is little doubt that some of his popularity derives from his spending habits. My friends in the drunken sailor community would be appalled at this profligacy. Consider some of the increases (in millions) over the decade from 1999 to 2008:

Athletics: $3.5 to $6.3 (up 80%)
Libraries: $3.6 to $6.2 (up 72%)
Museum:    $1.4 to $2.6 (up 86%)

Inflation between 1999 and 2008 is about 28%. You can be sure that the incremental spending above that rate made the various constituencies very happy. No wonder Morty is so popular!

No doubt much of this money has been well spent. But, alas, Williams can no longer afford some of these luxuries. We need to dial back the budget. (See my previous comments on cutting the budgets for athletics and WCMA.) Looking to the budget in 1999, as Larry George suggests, is a good place to start.


Spending on Administration

Most interesting single data point in the budget? Spending on “Administration” jumped 24.5% last year, far and away the biggest percentage increase in the budget and the most unusual data point given historical trends. In dollar terms, that seems to be a $2 million increase above the expected rate of growth.


What’s the cause? Well, goodness knows that Morty has been adding bureaucrats to the Williams payroll for years. I am surprised that there is any room left in Hopkins Hall! But things like the (relatively) new Zilka Center and the Office of Strategic Planning & Institutional Diversity are not that expensive.

My guess is that the cost of the Boston Investment Office is grouped under “Administration” and that the unexpected $2 million is a very rough estimate of its annual cost. Since Collette Chilton and at least some of her staff were in place before June 30, 2007 (the start of fiscal year 2008), the $2 million increase is an underestimate, but there has been other growth during this period as well, so, net-net, we won’t be far off. So, my estimate of $1 million for closing the Boston office is probably, if anything, conservative.

Can anyone think of a different category of Administration that would have grown so much between 2007 and 2008?


A Report From Williams 2008

Thanks to Rob White and Brooks Foehl ’88 from the Alumni Office for providing copies of A Report From Williams 2008 and its insert. Normally, this report includes information on the endowment and the budget, but that data was distributed via EphNotes this year.

FYI, this is the report that the College sends out each year to Alumni (and parents?). If readers have questions, please ask them. I think that the College does an amazing job with these reports but some alumni find them excessive. I am not sure why they did not include the budget and endowment information in the main Report. I hope that they will next year. I’ll highlight a different aspect of the Report each day this week.

Most important sentence?

In planning budget cuts, our first commitments are to meet the full need of all current and admitted students and then to avoid layoffs.

That’s from lead trustee Greg Avis ’80. It is always dangerous to read too much into a single sentence, but Avis is a smart and careful Eph, so here is my take.

a) Lay-offs will come before cuts financial aid. Rarely has “then” implied so much. Wow! If you are a Williams employee, this should make you worried. The financial aid budget at Williams is around $40 $30 million. If Avis and/or the trustees is really committed to keep spending at that level, then lay-offs are inevitable. There are a lot of Williams faculty (most? all?) that would rather cut financial aid back to say $30 $20 million (which is what Williams spent just a few years ago) to avoid making $10 million in cuts elsewhere. Since the most important input to a Williams education is the quality of the students, I agree completely with Avis’s priorities. Cut everything else to the bone before you cut a dime from financial aid.

b) “current and admitted” is not the same thing as “future.” Avis leaves open the door to changing the financial aid policy for students after the class of 2013.

c) “meet the full need” means different things to different people. Williams met the “full need” of many of my classmates by forcing them to take out tens of thousands of dollars of loans. Is Avis (or the Trustees) committed to a no-loan policy? I don’t know but I hope so.

d) Glad to see (consistent with previous reporting) that no distinction between domestic and international students is being made, despite (because of?) Morty’s floating a trial balloon last fall.


Budget History

Isn’t it pathetic that, while Williams is going through its biggest financial crisis in 25 years, no outsider knows the total, much less the details, of this year’s budget? Yes, it is!

As a service to the Williams community, here is some data on the recent history of the College’s finances, via financial statements and this 2002 report. Numbers are in millions and the fiscal years end on June 30.

Year  Operating Expenses Tuition Revenue Shortfall
2008          177                61         116
2007          164                59         105
2006          154                56          98 
2005          140                55          85
2004          137                53          84
2003          130                49          81 
2002          129                46          83          
2001          116                46          70
2000          108                47          61      
1999           99                NA 

There is probably a disconnect between these numbers around 2002/2003 since I get them from different sources. The jump from 129 to 130 in spending is smaller than normal, although it could be that the College was belt-tightening in conjunction with the 2002 bear market. Reasonable people will differ on just what is included in “operating” spending, and the College may very well change its classifications over time.

For pre-2003 data, I add “Renovation, Repair and Adaptation” to “Operating Expenditures” in the 2002 report because I think that this makes the total consistent with the 2003+ data. I estimate the tuition revenue for pre-2003 by subtracting “Scholarships & Fellowships” from “Student Charges.”


1) The key issue is that Williams has been increasing spending year after year while not raising after-aid tuition nearly as much. Since 2000, spending is up 74% compared to a 30% increase for student revenue. As long as the bull market roared, that was a sustainable policy. Now, it’s not. Almost all of the shortfall is made up by annual giving and endowment income. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get the data on those numbers to get a sense of the problem. We need an annual endowment number and a spending percentage.

2) When the Record reported that the College’s “operating budget” for 2008–2009 was $216 million, I was immediately suspicious since, after relatively steady growth over the last decade, it would be strange for the College’s budget to suddenly go up by 22%, especially in the year after the endowment was flat.

I followed up with the Record. Editor-in-Chief: Kevin Waite ’09 writes:

Checked with Lenhart and he says that total current expenditures are set at $216M this year. This includes operating expenditures, capital renewal spending and debt interest payments among a few other things. He says last year’s budget was around $200M.

So looks like operating expenditures are a good deal lower than $216M (probably closer to the number you published) making our article incorrect. Since we’d be a week late on running a correction, you can use what I told you here on Ephblog to correct our mistake.

Happy to help. I still wish that the Record would gather the necessary information in one handy table. Is that too much to ask for? And, of course, the College itself ought to make this data easily accessible and intelligently organized. It is almost impossible for any outsider (even members of the faculty) to have an informed opinion about the seriousness of the financial crisis at Williams without this sort of information.

3) If last year’s budget (2008) was $200 million under this definition (i.e., $23 million more than the $177 published in the financial statements) then one guess at the 2009 number that would be comparable would be the reported $216 million minus the same $23 million, or $193 million. That would represent 9% growth, more than I would expect but not implausible.


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