Williams College is significantly expanding its financial aid offerings. The college announced Wednesday that:
It will convert all loans to grants for those it defines as coming from middle-income families. The college already takes that approach with students from low-income families. It will no longer require students to hold jobs during the academic year or in the summer. It is keeping a financial aid methodology adopted in the fall that led one in six Williams families to see their parent contribution toward tuition decrease by $4,500.
Williams has for years been known for its financial aid packages. Williams covers books (the actual cost of all required books), travel (two trips home per year), health insurance, study abroad, lab and art supplies, and personal expenses (about $1,850 a year) in aid packages.
The changes being announced today will cost Williams $6.75 million a year on top of a $77.5 million total financial aid budget. Tuition, room and board at Williams will be $77,300 next year.
The impact of all of the changes over four years will be:
$35,000 in additional support for the average middle-income family. $16,000 in additional support for the average low-income family.
And Williams defines middle income in a way that is exceptionally generous: annual family income of between $75,000 and $175,000. Private colleges tend to define middle income in ways that reflect their demographics, and 47 percent of Williams students do not qualify for any aid.
In September, the U.S. Census Bureau said that the median family income in the United States was $67,521. The Pew Research Center said that incomes from about $48,500 to $145,500 in 2018 were middle income.
“Williams’ leadership in liberal arts excellence and affordability drew me here and inspires me every day,” said Williams president Maud S. Mandel, in a statement. “At a school graced with intellectually curious students, a superb program and generous alumni, the all-grant initiative combines these historic strengths in a way that equips our students to get the most out of their education.”
Mandel said in an interview that part of the college’s strategic planning was a goal to focus on “true affordability.”
On the elimination of requirements that students work as part of their aid packages, Mandel said she wasn’t against student work.
“We are in favor of work,” she said. About 60 percent of students who hold jobs at Williams are on financial aid, she said.
“We have every expectation that many students will be working in the future,” she said, but it should be their choice.
Mandel said the new aid program was not the result of endowment gains during the pandemic. Funds come from a variety of sources, she said, in particular from generous alumni.
This is the season when top colleges tend to announce expansions of their aid programs. Harvard University recently announced that all students from families with income up to $75,000 will have all of their expenses covered. That’s up from $65,000 previously.
Reactions to the Move
“It’s great to hear that Williams is moving to all grant,” said Eunice Kim, a Williams junior who has worked as a language lab monitor, admission office ambassador, research assistant, teaching assistant and grader during her three years on campus. “When I first got here, I was eager to get into my studies but needed to find a job to earn money. Now students like me will be able to dedicate those gained hours to classes, extracurriculars, friends. Maybe even a little more sleep.”
Justin Draeger, CEO and president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, offered a different perspective.
“Many schools have held strong to the idea that a student contribution through work is an integral part of ingratiating students into the college campus and ensuring their success.” But he said that several colleges, especially those with large endowments, “are rethinking that proposition and increasing their aid packages to allow students to focus solely on being students.”
As a profession, he said, “We’re committed to support each student admitted to our institution to the extent a school is able. Of course most schools don’t have the endowment size to even consider these matters. So even while we rightfully applaud and celebrate schools for doing all they can to help their respective students, we shouldn’t lose focus on federal and state policies that will have the largest impact on student affordability and college access.”