Originally this piece was going to be about the excellent panel on socioeconomic class that Grinnell students, faculty, and staff participated in on Thursday night.
However, by the time the deadline rolled around I found myself with a more burning question on my mind:
What the @#&_ is happening with financial aid?
Perhaps more what I mean is this: what the %#%* is happening with student participation in the conversation about Grinnell’s financial aid?
A few weeks ago, the student body seemed to be repeating one phrase: “Grinnell is cutting need-blind admission!”
Everyone, myself included, freaked out. What about Grinnell’s commitment to social justice in all aspects of our college policies? What about the diversity of our campus community because of our commitment to meet full need? This is an outrage!
Also uh, what, exactly, is need-blind admission again?
It is also important to note that everyone (myself included) also started asking the question, “what are we going to do about it?” This led to a conversation with a lot of passion and mobilization behind it, but one without the tools necessary to understand the nuances of the problems Grinnell faces, which led to mistakes. My own mistakes included (this column is becoming rapidly more embarrassing).
At the Town Hall Meetings on Grinnell’s financial aid policies, President Kington and Joe Bagnoli spoke briefly about the myriad of options Grinnell is considering to try to increase long-term revenue. They also affirmed their desire to maintain need-blind admission.
At Volunteer weekend, Dr. Kington explicitly stated, “Grinnell College is NOT eliminating its need-blind admissions policy.”
Once students heard this, it seemed like it was time to check out of the conversation. President Kington didn’t want to cut need-blind aid, so, crisis averted. Mission accomplished, let’s go back to watching videos of cats falling down stairs on the internet.
Student reaction also seemed to taper off because of a lack of understanding: most of us have spent in total maybe forty-five minutes (with a break for the catering coffee in the back) thinking about and participating in a conversation that is driven by administrators who have been thinking about this day in and day out for years, with specialized training few of us have. As long as none of them want to cut need-blind aid, then we should probably just wait for them to figure it out.
Wait a second!
I am completely ignorant of higher education policy, the economics that drive the role of the college, and basically any social, economic, or political theory not featured in the 2000s classic “Mean Girls.” However, now more than ever I am working on rectifying this, and I’m inviting you to join me. No please really, join me, because I know that my basic math skills and that one time I skimmed an econ text book is pretty paltry compared to the skills and passions of most Grinnellians. Even if you’re like me, read through what’s posted on the college’s website under Strategic Planning, read the Chronicle of Higher Education, and email professors, administrators, alumni and other students who might be willing to help translate this conversation.
We should have a voice in this conversation: the more we understand about our financial circumstances, the more we can contribute to the conversation in a way that actually represents our values and creates a viable financial future for Grinnell.
We shouldn’t let our ignorance keep us out of the conversation. By which I don’t mean, let’s go shout at passerby about socially just finances. We need to start doing our research! Knowledge is power (though admittedly I’m not sure if that’s a Latin aphorism or a Levar Burton quote), and the more we know about this conversation, the more we can contribute in a way that reflects what we want the school to look like.
Now is the time. This conversation is going to continue long after we have all graduated (I mean, that’s the point: Grinnell is making long term plans for its economic future) and like it or not, we’re all connected to Grinnell in some capacity and we have the power to shape its future.