In campus-wide email, Kington says College considering changes to need-blind admissions

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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

'In campus-wide email, Kington says College considering changes to need-blind admissions' have 8 comments

  1. September 24, 2012 @ 3:14 pm Respectfully

    Sometimes I feel as if Raynard’s legacy at Grinnell was already written when he took the job. With Osgood gone and the recession continuing to loom over the prospects of the College, Raynard is being forced to tackle the issues of finance and endowment realties, which are never easy things and the community is going to hate him for it. No matter the outcome.

  2. September 24, 2012 @ 11:41 pm Jay B.

    The endowment contributes less than the spending policy to the operating budget (4% payout, but trustee bylaws state that less than that full 4% should go to the operating budget). For the past 15 years the college has used that extra to fund the Excellence Fund and then all of the new buildings. With those projects over, where will that “extra” payout go? The college’s endowment, by the very nature of it’s outlier size relative to enrollment, ought to be contributing the lion’s share of the operating budget. Maybe 55% isn’t enough.

    And don’t whine about needing balance of revenue — again, that’s relative. The fact is (see previous paragraph), the college isn’t using the full endowment payout for the budget anyway. How is that any rationale for either more donations or higher tuition charges ($50K+ a year and climbing). Even the trustees don’t give very much (some don’t give at all). Read the honor roll in a few weeks and see for yourself.

  3. September 25, 2012 @ 10:55 am Pamela H. Feinstein

    I have a Grinnell degree (and lifetime memories of a fantastic Grinnell experience, which includes a semester of study in London, which–because of a generous bump in financial aid for the semester–I was able to attend for no higher cost than a semester of study in Iowa) thanks to Grinnell’s needs-blind policy. As such, it feels like a kick to the gut to hear Grinnell’s considering eliminating it.

    My parents lost their business and our house when I was in 7th grade; we went bankrupt. I always knew I wanted to attend a good college, and because my parents were honest with me about their financial prospects, I knew they’d never be able to help me pay to attend one. So I did everything in my power (short of playing sports, and becoming anyone but myself 🙂 to make sure I could be accepted by a good school, and get a scholarship.

    When I visited Grinnell, the first thing I saw was guy with half his head shaved, and I thought “I can anybody I want to be here.” And I could, and was. That freedom has made me the person I am today, not only socially and politically aware and a “contributing member of society,” but also always compassionate to and interested in others, and in the continuing process of learning.

    For a couple of reasons (1. Grinnell captured my mind and my heart completely; 2. I didn’t have enough money for multiple applications), Grinnell was the only school I applied to, and when I received the acceptance certificate I cried with joy. My mother, however, sobered me up (or down, as the case may be), saying we had to see what my financial aid package would be.

    Although I graduated 6th in my high school class of 400, was editor of the school’s literary magazine and president of the drama club, in addition to working 2 after-school jobs to earn money for my future, I’m positive my credentials weren’t the best Grinnell saw that year (remember, I was in classes w/ the brilliant other students who were accepted :-). I didn’t get an academic scholarship, but I did get a wonderful financial-aid package.

    I can never pay Grinnell back for what it gave me–though, even when I only had $5.00 to spare at the end of each month, I’ve never NOT given when called by the school for money. And I remain actively involved with Grinnellians and Grinnell. I care. The school and the people it nutures matter to me.

    It would break my heart if in 25 years there aren’t former students with a story like mine to tell. It would lessen in my mind what Grinnell is. The stock market will always rise and fall, and unfortunately Warren Buffett won’t be around forever to guide our investments, but Grinnell’s core, its fascinating students and their love of learning, hopefully will…regardless of their younger socio-economic situation.

    That said, I urge the school not to do away with its needs-blind policy.

    With love and respect for my alma mater,

    Pam Feinstein, class of 1987

  4. September 26, 2012 @ 1:26 pm Michael Andersen '03

    Contrary to President Kington’s claim on my behalf, I would indeed be satisfied if Grinnell offered first-rate access to a second-rate education.

    I’ve given to the college every year since graduation, I think. Grinnell transformed and greatly enriched my life, and I was lucky enough to have parents who paid for most of it. It’s a great source of pride to me that my college is both need-blind and meets the full demonstrated need of domestic students.

    But simply put, I can’t justify charitable contributions to an organization that isn’t fully committed to equal access to quality education. Too many other socially transformative institutions deserve my charitable support.

    In the increasingly competitive and digital education market, we can’t succeed by simply being one of 50 expensive ways to obtain a “first-class education.” The only way to compete and survive will be to have a clear, unique identity. I salute President Kington’s embrace of Grinnell’s tradition of social justice as our core brand and strategic advantage.

    To abandon either need-blind admission or full demonstrated need would be to abandon that advantage and make ourselves generic.

    That’s a death sentence. Let other universities and colleges compete by jostling among each other to find more and more ways to lure in rich people. If remaining unique means making hard, controversial choices about how and where to let our academic reputation degrade, so be it. In the academic marketplace of the future, that’s the truly inspiring choice.

  5. September 26, 2012 @ 3:39 pm "L.D." Simmons

    Really great news. I can’t wait to see how the administration will attempt to reconcile the college’s commitment to social justice with an admissions preference for rich applicants.

    I guess they need extra money to tear down Burling and build a new library.

  6. September 27, 2012 @ 5:24 pm Alfred E. Neuman

    So, let’s change the core, change the mission, change the tradition and lay it at the feet of the alumni donors….really?!

    I don’t buy it. Need-blind and meeting full need are part of the CORE and the SOUL of Grinnell. How much aid would that fancy prize buy? I’m sure there are other examples.

    Let’s cut a whole lot of other things before we cut the heart and soul. This feels like a cheap attempt to guilt giving,

    It’s all about priorities. If this were a priority, then it would NOT be the first thing tossed up on the chopping block. I just don’t buy the presidential pablum. Been there and heard it before.

  7. September 28, 2012 @ 8:14 am Daniel Schneider 2010

    Not for nothing, but I want to give credit to the transparency and active engagement Kington is promoting here – plenty of places I can imagine a group of 4 senior administrators working in a conference room somewhere, playing with numbers until they announce the policy change.

    Open forums, surveys, putting all the options on the table – this to me sounds like responsible stewardship more than anything else. It would not surprise me at all if we saw as a result other structural changes in the school’s finance and a re-commitment to need-blind. My guess is that this was the first trade-off that seemed fiscally viable and socially responsible. We don’t know what else is on the table.

    –DS, 2010

  8. September 28, 2012 @ 10:52 am Middle-aged alum

    Providing financial aid necessary for students attending Grinnell along with a need-blind admission policy is at the very core of the school’s mission.

    One wonders if the lavish buildings that have remade the entire campus over the past decade were really the wisest use of finite resources (but that is now water under the bridge).

    Something Grinnell should certainly not do is to continue their annual tuition increases. That is not a solution and ultimately will drive away many prospective students. And even if it did not, I don’t think Grinnell wants to become dependent on a thin layer of very wealthy students.

    There are ways to significantly cuts costs and overhead without in any way effecting the quality of education or hacking away at what makes Grinnell unique.

    The problem is doing this will be very unpopular with employees of the college. Will the college have the courage to follow its mission and look at these issues in clear-eyed way? Certain questions need to be faced honestly. Are staffing levels, especially in non-teaching areas, bloated? Are marketing and pr gimmicks that require millions of dollars (such as the doling out large cash prices to individuals and not-for-profits with no connection to the university) a wise use of limited resources?

    Before deciding to adopt a policy that would favor wealthy students over more needy ones, let us look if there may be other solutions.

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