The Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid presented three options for changes to the College’s admissions and financial aid policies this week. The policies are meant to address what is projected to be an unsustainable financial path for the College. See the front-page article for more details. We appreciate the administration’s transparency during the financial planning process, especially visits by Vice President for Enrollment Joe Bagnoli to Joint Board and a town hall meeting Thursday.
A few of the changes are relatively painless, such as ending the indexing of merit aid, or even good ideas, such as notifying the most academically qualified students of their admission earlier to entice them to come. However, most of the options presented lower the academic excellence of the student body, negatively affect higher-need students, or compromise diversity and the percentage of first-generation students.
One of the aspects of Grinnell we value the most is that there is not an overwhelming concentration of students from wealthy families. Socioeconomic diversity is one of the main characteristics that sets Grinnell apart from other top small liberal arts colleges and is one of the main reasons many of us came here. We must maintain this diversity. Furthermore, steps meant to attract more wealthy students, even if they allow the College to technically remain need-blind, are penalizing students who happen to come from less wealthy backgrounds, which is fundamentally contrary to Grinnell’s core value of social justice.
Therefore, we urge the administration, Board of Trustees and everyone involved in the decision to make as few of these changes as possible. It is far better to make too few changes and need to change more later than to make unnecessary and unjust changes out of an abundance of caution about the College’s financial future. It is best to allow time for alumni giving to increase, the standing of the College to improve in the minds of the top prospective students or the endowment to end up performing better than projected. For example, encouraging alumni to donate to a fund specifically supporting financial aid could increase giving.
However, some changes do seem to be necessary now. Much of options A and B is acceptable. The main exception is using merit aid to increase the yield on wealthier students. Using merit aid techniques such as earlier notification of awards is a good strategy to increase the yield on students who actually have the most academic merit. But merit aid should be used on students with the most merit, not students in the middle of the spectrum who are also wealthy. Essentially paying people to come to Grinnell because they are wealthy, despite the fact that the policy would lead to a drop in academic quality, is blatantly unjust. While the admissions office can adopt this policy without board approval, we urge them not to.
In addition, we oppose more rigorous enforcement of financial aid deadlines and policies. It is unjust to prevent higher-need students, often in the most difficult family situations, from being able to come to Grinnell because of how their parents fill out forms. It is also unclear how this policy would be implemented, raising the possibility that third and fourth-years could have to drop out if they did not meet the new financial aid application requirements.
We would accept options A and B besides the merit aid for wealthier students and stricter financial aid policies, but, again, still urge as few of them as possible to be adopted.
Option C is absolutely unacceptable. Eliminating need-blind admissions, even in only a small stage of the admissions process, is taking the importance of wealth in admissions to an extreme and likewise takes injustice to an extreme.
We urge students to make their voices heard in the process by attending the town halls in the next few weeks and by speaking to SGA and the administration. The attendance at the first town hall Thursday night was way too low. Only two students not on the staff of the S&B or in SGA Cabinet were there. SGA needs to do a much better job publicizing these town halls. A Facebook event created the night before and an all-campus email sent five hours before are not enough notification. We hope SGA will intensely publicize the next town halls. The town halls at the beginning of the semester had too much presentation and not enough student response. This round of events is a good opportunity to increase student participation at the events. We encourage all students to attend in order to educate themselves and participate in this important conversation about balancing our finances and our principles.