Financial Aid: Now More Than Ever

In my previous post, I described some of the steps Wesleyan is taking toward what I called “sustainable affordability.” One step is almost uncontroversial: we will no longer raise tuition rates in excess of inflation rates. Over time, this should mean that we will no longer be among the most expensive schools in the country. Some commentators have suggested that we more aggressively charge those families who can most afford to pay. I don’t think this is a serious option. We can (and we will) ask families with economic capacity to contribute to our financial aid scholarship funds.  Their philanthropy is more important than ever, but we will not build philanthropy into price.

The most controversial step I described was being only as “need-blind” as we can afford to be. Many people believe that being “need-blind” is a sign of quality — educational quality and moral quality. As I’ve said before, we could be “need-blind” and spend less money on scholarships. It’s easy for schools to choose metrics of student quality (like SAT scores) that correlate with wealth. They can say they are “need-blind” while having a more homogeneous student body. Schools can also remain “need-blind” by increasing loan levels or expected parental contribution. We will not do this.

This is what we will do: Wesleyan will continue to seek a diverse student body,  continue to meet full need, and continue to hold down student debt. We will continue actively to seek students who have great academic potential and very high need — families whose incomes make them eligible for our no-loan program, students who will receive full scholarships. And we will strive to find ways to make Wesleyan more affordable to middle class students. I am grateful for the suggestions in this regard in the blog comments, and we will study them and other ideas throughout the next academic year. These will be discussed on campus and with alumni in various parts of the country. Following up on suggestions in the comments, we will be making more of our financial planning documents available on the web as updates to the Wesleyan 2020 site.

The third step I described in my previous post is a three-year option for the BA. This idea has generated considerable discussion across the country. The three-year option may be an affordability choice for many students. It does not require overloads, nor does it steer folks to particular majors or jobs. The three-year option is not, though, for everyone, nor is it a form of financial aid. It’s a choice of how to get a great education in a more affordable way.

I want to be clear: As we increase our endowment levels, we will spend even more money on financial aid. Financial aid endowment and endowing key academic programs are the highest priorities for our fundraising efforts. Our generous parents and alumni have been donating tens of millions of dollars so that we can continue to meet the full economic needs of a very significant percentage of the Wesleyan student body. Labels aside, we are more dedicated than ever to supporting our students so that they can get the most out of their education. Labels aside, we will continue to use a holistic admissions process that strives to create a diverse class of talented students from different parts of the world, from all walks of life.

We will not pursue economic policies that undermine the long-term viability of alma mater. We want our university to be stronger over time, not for the sake of our endowment, but so that future generations can benefit from a Wesleyan education. Financial Aid — now more than ever.

We have been discussing these ideas about sustainable affordability over the last year with students, faculty, alumni and staff, and we will continue to gather ideas about how best to proceed. We do not expect these to be easy conversations. These questions can look very different from different perspectives. But to all of you who care deeply about Wesleyan, be assured that we will redouble our efforts to find ways to hold down costs, enhance diversity and increase support for scholarships. We want to increase access to Wesleyan not just for the near term, but also for the long term. Financial aid — now more than ever. Wesleyan — now more than ever.


7 thoughts on “Financial Aid: Now More Than Ever”

  1. President Roth,

    Would it be possible to include in these Wesleyan 2020 financial documents projections regarding a return to need-blind status? I assume that this is the ultimate goal of all of these changes, to grow the endowment to a level where need-blind is sustainable again.

    Has the finance office measured out when this will be feasible (especially in light of the upcoming capital campaign)?

  2. I have been frustrated with the politics of business for quite some time. I have seen too many organizations sever limbs and and vital organs to keep the core alive. Too many organizations “saving” what they believe is “valued”. I do not fault Wesleyan for trying to keep its body alive but I believe that can be accomplished without crippling its core or compromising its values. Need-blind/need-aware are useless labels. Is Wesleyan sacrificing quality and commitment to its students and community to preserve its prestige? By that I mean is Wesleyan admitting too many students forcing singles into doubles and doubles into triples? By that I mean is Wesleyan discontinuing the support of programs such as Upward Bound and HPPI to make room for its 3 year BA program? These prorgrams, which have remarkable success rates, more closely intertwine Wesleyan and the Middletown and greater Connecticut communities.

    At Wesleyan, there are some of the most advanced, most expensive facilities on any college campus in the United States. But, are they necessary? Are they all so necessary that it is worth congesting the campus with overenrollment? So necessary that it is worth marginalizing or eliminating some of the most successful programs on campus? The total cost of doing business has risen and is rising out of control. But I would hate to see Wesleyan preserve facilities over people and programs. I would rather the air conditioning be turned off, the lights turned dimmed, automatic lights and faucets be installed in every building before seeing employees fired and programs eliminated. I would rather see 10% salary reductions (before any layoffs) than 10% denied admissions (even after several individuals have been laid off and several offices merged/closed). Financial aid will mean nothing, even as a top priority, if students cannot take the classes they need because of overcompetition for spots.

    I don’t give to Wesleyan because I or my family has lots of money. I give because I believe in any school that has invested in my potential. I give so those schools may continue investing in the potential of students like me. Times are so hard right now that I could easily stop my charitable donations in order to get some things that I may consider more essential (e.g. new clothing, air conditioning, new computer, better groceries) but I tighten my belt, and sweat through the excessive heat my computer gives off. Sweat through it for the next generation. Let me be clear. I don’t care if Wesleyan SAYS that it is committed to Financial Aid or need-blind admissions. I don’t care if Wesleyan SAYS that it is committed to diversity and its students. I care what Wesleyan DOES (and has done). Sweat with me Wesleyan. Don’t quietly marginalize “non-essential” programs and staff. Don’t quietly crowd more and more students into the same spaces while simultaneously raising costs. Keep Wesleyan small, dim the lights, open a window, turn off the air conditioning and let’s sweat to a better solution.

  3. President Roth’s disrespect for the ideas and proposals from current students reflects a larger, more deeply coercive paternalism at the core of this administration’s decision-making process. President Roth has not seriously engaged with the student body by offering avenues for continued discussion, channels for accountability in decision-making, or commitments to respond to and research student proposals for alternatives to ending need-blind. All who read these postings should be highly suspicious of any claimed commitment to dialogue, or any other remotely democratic approach to this issue, because none has been seriously pursued.

    Students have proposed a number of exciting alternatives to ending need-blind, including changes to Wesleyan’s approach to athletics, academics, administration and staffing. Many of these ideas include a vision for greater inclusion of students in university processes, that offset costs yet provide alternative forms of education. These include having students involved in administrative operations (including a task force given exclusive access to Wesleyan financial information), having students get credit for farming at Long Lane to reduce food costs, allowing more students to teach student forums to offset academic costs, and getting more students involved in the upkeep of the institution. And these are just a few of the rudimentary ideas I have heard proposed this past year. However, because students have access to very few documents revealing detailed university expenditures, and transparency with institutional assets is nonexistent, these proposals can only go so far. We need detailed University financial information, with names redacted to ensure individual privacy, in order to crunch the numbers and make our ideas viable. But this has not happened, and until it does, no student proposals can truly garner the traction they need to make an impact, and the unacceptable status quo will continue to rule.

    It is high time for the Roth Administration to engage the brilliant minds within its massive student body, which is perhaps Wesleyan’s most valuable yet underutilized resource. Students are ready to envision a new way forward at Wesleyan, a new student life on campus. We believe in big ideas, big changes to campus life which many will warmly embrace as an alternative to ending need-blind admissions. But nobody in the Roth Administration is listening. The longer the cycle of silence and ignorance endures, concerned and engaged students will find fewer and fewer options open to them, leaving only an inevitable confrontation that everyone wishes to avoid. As a member of the class of 2012, as a student leaving an institution I care deeply about, I see this place faltering from shallow vision and poor decision-making. I highly advise the Roth Administration to truly engage deeply with concerned students, hear their proposals and seriously research and consider them – as opposed to ignoring them outright, or as more frequently occurs, entertaining them in rhetoric and then doing nothing to follow-up. It is in these unheard student voices, the youth whose imagination and hope is not hampered by bureaucratized pragmatism, or burdened with institutional baggage so they can truly envision a different Wesleyan, who hold the key to unlocking truly creative alternatives to Wesleyan’s current financial woes.

    Save need blind admissions! Listen to the students!

    June 6, 2012

    Last week, in his blog post “Sustainable Affordability”, President Roth officially laid out his plan to scale back Wesleyan’s need-blind policy. By becoming need-aware for a small portion of the applicant pool, Wesleyan will no longer wait until after admissions decisions are made to budget for financial aid for the year and, as a result, will be able to cap tuition increases without raising loan levels.

    In his blog post, President Roth presented the plan as a way to prevent Wesleyan from becoming less affordable: it will allow Wesleyan to keep tuition increases to levels near inflation and to give generous financial aid packages with minimal loan levels to students who attend Wesleyan. Still, the plan has upset many students, alumni, and parents because it goes against a principle that we hold dear, namely that Wesleyan will make admissions decisions without considering an applicant’s ability to pay. In other words, how can Wesleyan criticize and challenge socio-economic inequality, if its admissions policy reinforces that very inequality by offering an advantage to students from wealthier families? Many community members are also concerned that the plan will decrease the future socioeconomic diversity of Wesleyan.

    President Roth, who originally regarded preserving need-blind for domestic, first-year applicants as a core tenetof his strategic plan, views his proposal as a last resort or a necessary evil, with only two alternatives: either raising tuition and loans to steep and unsustainable levels or significantly compromising the quality of a Wesleyan education. To his credit, President Roth has made scores of cuts during his tenure and has cancelled two major capital projects in an effort to save money and redirect funds towards financial aid. Yet, whether there is more room for cost-savings and revenue generation that does not significantly compromise the quality of education remains an open question. President Roth claims that the administration has already made all the possible cuts of inessentials and has already explored all the possible revenue generating options. But what if students had the chance to brainstorm cost-saving measures and give direct budget input? Put differently, if students are willing to protest the scaling back of need-blind, they should also be prepared to propose alternative cost-saving solutions that will defray the real costs of a need-blind policy.

    In this spirit, I am proposing the creation of a Student Budget Sustainability Task Force, charged with identifying areas for cuts and devising creative ideas for new revenue and costs savings. This group of committed students would meet intensively and work assiduously to make recommendations to the administration before the Board of Trustees meets again in November, and no need-blind related decisions should be finalized until then. The Task Force would also work to supplement President Roth’s proposal for a three-year bachelor’s degree track by brainstorming other ways to make Wesleyan more affordable for all students.

    For this task force to be effective, it will need to have access to budget information in great depth and have the opportunity to ask administrators specific budget questions. It will also need to know the full range of cuts that were considered or implemented in the past and the magnitude of various cuts relative to the amount needed to preserve need-blind financial aid for domestic, first-year applicants. Lastly, it will need to collaborate extensively with the faculty and administrators who, like students, will feel the effects of any budget cuts.

    Wesleyan students are smart and creative problem-solvers, and with the necessary information and scholarship, may be able to come up with some powerful ideas to improve the budget sustainability and affordability of Wesleyan. The Task Force will also provide students with an invaluable educational experience, one that embodies the “practical idealism” central to Wesleyan’s mission.

    Wesleyan is in a tough financial position, and creating the Budget Sustainability Task Force does not guarantee any major results. That being said, the administration should give the student solution a chance, going beyond token transparency to empower students to help meaningfully address Wesleyan’s financial issues.

  5. Some of these posts reinforce the notion that there are other potential ways of preserving the need-blind policy on which I previously commented. Defending the proposals by stating that tuition will not increase in relation to inflation is at best a weak defense. Tuition is already too high for all but the very wealthy. President says “We will not build philanthropy into price,” but expecting students to pay more when they cannot afford to do so is inequitable philanthropy. If the son or daughter of a millionaire is qualified to attend Wesleyan, his/her parents should be assesed a higher tuition. Certainly, this will not have any significant impact on the family income nor cause a decline in a luxurious standard of living unattainable by middle and lower income families. As a WAAV volunteer, I was motivated by my desire to contribute to my college in interviewing prospective students knowing that if they are admitted costs will not be an obstacle. I am not particularly interested in volunteering my service if students are denied for lack of funds. Run nationwide ads directed to alumni and others to contribute any amount for the specific purpose of supporting middle and lower income applicants.

  6. I spent five long, hot summers at Wesleyan earning my MALS. Even though I received two NSF grants it was financially difficult despite the lower cost at the time (1960’s). Cut salaries including that of the administration. Severely reduce the funds for athletics. Suspend aid to foreign students. Seek grants from the state of CT for which students could perform community service. Have students perform custodial services and reduce the number of paid staff. Ask the faculty to donate profits from lectures, publications, and arts productions. Be creative in raising funds on a national level. The arts department could produce plays and musicals.

  7. Although I have been away from Wesleyan for 45 years and have never been too concerned about the economics of running a university, I cannot express strongly enough my opposition and frankly, disrespect, for the proposals regarding need-blind. Anything less than 100% is unacceptable, and this funding should primarily be grants not loans. The spirit of Wesleyan lies in the student body, the alumni and the faculty. It does not reside with the administration. The idealistic goal of academic excellence is exemplified in the individual student and a personal vision of self-development. Wesleyan is about quality education not about money. We may live in a gray world, but I also believe in absolutes. Sometimes black and white are clearly morally and ethically correct. For those who say idealism is unrealistic in a materialistic world, I say that closed minds impede creative thought. President Roth talks about affordability without revealing a detailed accounting of expenses. Why not provide a listing of salaries, wages and expenditures. We live in a world of enormous disparities in levels of income. Some are grossly overpaid while others are underpaid. Currently in the US there are millions unemployed, homes are being foreclosed, outsourcing continues, health costs are out of control and politicians have failed to serve the people. Greed, unfortunately, is a motivating factor. Education is unaffordable for the masses not only at the most expensive colleges but at the least costly institutions. Yet given this scenario, Wesleyan arbitrarily plans to become part of the problem by limiting admission for lack of money. My Alma Mater has failed. Anything less than total need-blind funding opens the door to deterioriation on several levels.

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