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President Raynard Kington sent a campus-wide email Friday afternoon indicating that the College is considering changes to its need-blind admissions policy.
He outlined a process for student, faculty and alumni input in early October before a discussion at the October meeting of the Board of Trustees, faculty and presidential recommendations in December and a final decision by the trustees in February.
The College will launch a survey in early October, and there will be town hall meetings on Monday at noon in JRC 101 and Thursday at 7 p.m. in Herrick Chapel.
Kington explained that the College’s current reliance on the endowment for 55 percent of its operating funds is unsustainable.
“In recent years endowment growth has slowed with the global economy, while families’ need for aid has increased significantly,” Kington wrote in the email. “These trends are cause for concern. None of us would ever want to see the day when Grinnell had to choose whether to spend our limited funds on excellence or access. Put more starkly: we never want our values to depend on the markets.”
He also expressed a need to weigh core values of academic excellence against those of access and act before the tradeoff became too stark.
“How can we help Grinnell remain excellent and accessible?” Kington wrote. “Each commitment costs money, whether to recruit the best new faculty or provide aid that enables talented but financially-challenged students to choose Grinnell. Neither choice is sufficient: none of us would be satisfied if Grinnell offered students first-rate access to a second-rate education. Nor would we accept the idea of becoming a top-tier school accessible only to wealthy students. Fortunately, neither of these scenarios has come to pass. I want to ensure that they never do.”
The full text of Kington’s email follows:
To the Grinnell Community,
Among the many distinctions that we proudly claim for Grinnell, only three are elevated to the level of core values: academic excellence, diversity and a commitment to social responsibility. This trio explicitly includes our commitment to making a Grinnell education accessible to promising students regardless of their financial means.
For three decades we have enacted this commitment through our need-blind admissions policy and a promise to meet the full financial need of all our admitted domestic students. The need-blind policy dates back to the early 1980s. And our work has had a demonstrable impact on the lives of numerous Grinnellians and their families: evidenced in the fact that Grinnell students graduate with less student loan debt than students from any other college in Iowa, including our public universities, and from many of our national public and private peers.
As the College’s president, I join you all in celebrating these achievements. At the same time, we must protect our ability to continue upholding our principles in the future. How can we can help Grinnell remain excellent and accessible? Each commitment costs money, whether to recruit the best new faculty or provide aid that enables talented but financially-challenged students to choose Grinnell. Neither choice is sufficient: none of us would be satisfied if Grinnell offered students first-rate access to a second-rate education. Nor would we accept the idea of becoming a top-tier school accessible only to wealthy students. Fortunately, neither of these scenarios has come to pass. I want to ensure that they never do.
For many years, Grinnell has regarded our endowment as the solution. We are the beneficiaries of donors and Trustees who grew and stewarded our endowment over several decades, enabling us to support great programs without raising tuition out of reach.
During the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, strong investment returns enabled us to depend heavily on our endowment: the share of the College’s operating funds taken from the endowment rose from 30 percent in the 1980s to the 40s during the 1990s, to approximately 55% today. Our reliance on this source of funds to the relative exclusion of other streams puts us at risk.
In recent years endowment growth has slowed with the global economy, while families’ need for aid has increased significantly. These trends are cause for concern. None of us would ever want to see the day when Grinnell had to choose whether to spend our limited funds on excellence or access. Put more starkly: we never want our values to depend on the markets.
Grinnell is not at that impasse yet. But others are. Many of you will have heard the recent news of Wesleyan’s difficult decision to step away from an explicit need-blind policy. The announcement generated much discussion and concern, both within Wesleyan’s community and nationally. What has been somewhat overlooked is the fact that, despite the change, Wesleyan is still committed to admitting the first 90 percent of each class on a need-blind basis. But even so, the decision has been a painful one for them.
The size of Grinnell’s endowment has cushioned us against some of these pressures for now. But we cannot avoid them forever. Today we have a chance to take advantage of our privileged position by looking ahead and planning for a principled future. I am implementing a set of steps to begin this work, by providing information to the community about our current situation and the reasons why we believe it is necessary to take a new approach to the future. For example, I am investing significantly in our communications and fundraising efforts, toward the goals of attracting future applicants and inspiring philanthropic support.
Financial aid policies are another area where we need to think about the future—to be intentional and proactive about protecting our values. In the spirit of shared governance, I have been working closely with members of our Executive Council—the faculty’s elected governing body—and the Committee on Admission and Financial Aid (CAFA) to define a series of steps toward a community-wide discussion about our financial aid policies.
Following are the initial plans for how we will organize these conversations. I hope this sequence will enable a thoughtful, transparent and inclusive discussion of our options for strengthening our financial outlook.
· We began by holding a series of in-depth meetings with CAFA and the faculty as a whole.
· On Monday, September 24, in JRC 101 at 12:00 p.m. and on Thursday, September 27, in Herrick Chapel at 7:00 p.m., we will hold Town Halls where everyone on campus can hear presentations by Chief Financial Officer Karen Voss and Vice President for Enrollment Joe Bagnoli, Jr., about the college’s finances and some of the options available to protect our commitment to our core values.
· On Friday, October 4, Karen and Joe will give a similar presentation to the Alumni Council and class agents during Alumni Volunteer Weekend, followed by communications out to all alumni.
· During that same October time frame we will publish an audio slideshow of the presentations, which any Grinnellian can download to understand the College’s current position and future options. Working with CAFA, we will then launch a survey and open comment period during which everyone will be invited to submit ideas and questions and participate in the conversation. I hope to come out of this process with a strong sense of where we are as a community.
· On October 12 and 13 I will lead a discussion of the core issues with our Board of Trustees. I hope it can include a summary of themes that emerge from your comments.
· In early December the faculty will make a set of recommendations to me about the College’s future financial aid policies.
· I will take the community’s full input into account when I make my own set of recommendations to the Board in December for moves that can strengthen our long-term financial health.
· Finally, the Board will deliberate and vote on a course of action at their February 2013 meeting.
One of Grinnell’s distinctive features is our commitment to community. We tackle problems together and benefit from the input of our diverse members. In order to live up to that promise I want us all to understand the College’s financial situation—to look at the “levers” that affect our financial situation and discuss which ones we think should be pulled.
Challenging times like these are a test of our commitment to our values. I want us to have a process that is as inclusive, respectful, insightful, and passionate as Grinnell can be. I believe this conversation will strengthen us as a community, while advancing Grinnell’s deep and simultaneous commitments to excellence, diversity, and access.
I urge you to please play your part.
Raynard S. Kington