“We really wanted to spread out as much as possible for students to decide what they want to do with their college experience,” said Ashley Bianchi, director of student financial services at Williams. “And we see this grant initiative as kind of an opportunity to do that.”
The college expects its grant program to benefit about half of its undergraduate students who receive financial aid, increasing aid to middle-income families by about $35,000 over four years and to families low income of about $16,000. The plan will cost Williams about $6.75 million a year through its endowment, alumni donations and tuition, the college said.
The momentum is building around efforts to persuade the Biden administration to write off federal student loan debt, which totals more than $1.6 trillion in the United States. On Tuesday, the Department of Education said it would give borrowers extra credit for loan forgiveness under what are known as income-driven repayment plans.
Biden administration gives more borrowers the chance to cancel their debt
Williams’ new program eliminates college or federal government loans that, in 2019, made up 3% of funding offered in the school’s financial aid programs; it also ends work-study jobs, which were 4%. The annual price of an education there is over $77,000, including tuition, room, board, and other fees.
Kai Cash, a 2019 Williams graduate, said he was able to afford that education through a financial aid package that consisted of entirely on scholarships and work-study jobs in the college’s design and machine shops. Having loans likely would have pushed him to choose the highest-paying career possible, he said, rather than pursue a postgraduate scholarship and try different jobs.
In Cash’s view, the new scholarship program will take the financial strain off students and free up time they would have spent in work-study jobs. He said these students could participate more fully in other aspects of their college experience, such as going to a professor’s office hours, volunteering in the community or studying abroad.
“All the moments there are really important,” Cash said. “And that kind of frees up a large population of students who normally wouldn’t take a lot of risk or explore as much as the student who doesn’t need financial help to explore a lot more in school.”
The All Grants initiative may not be replicable at other colleges. Williams has a small undergraduate population of about 2,100 and an endowment of 4.2 billion, compared to a national average of 1.1 billion. It is also very selective, with an acceptance rate of 9%.
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That admissions rate is part of why moving to a fully-funded financial aid model is unlikely to make Williams accessible to more students, said Nathan Daun-Barnett, professor of higher education administration at the University at Buffalo. Most students, he said, don’t get a good enough quality K-12 education to get into a school like Williams.
“For students who are resilient enough and can find a way to do this, it’s a complete game-changer,” Daun-Barnett said. “It just doesn’t change the whole picture.”
Daun-Barnett said many other colleges and universities would struggle to implement a scholarship program like Williams’, which has a large endowment and can absorb the cost of awarding scholarships to its relatively large number. restricted to low-income students. Public colleges tend to have a greater diversity of income and should award scholarships to many more students, he said.
Bianchi, the director of financial services at Williams, acknowledged that implementing a fully funded model is not necessarily viable for all colleges and universities.
“Finding close to $7 million in someone’s budget is really hard no matter what school you’re considering,” she said. “But what we hope will happen is that other colleges recognize what’s going on here and think about how they spend their money and decide if it’s right for them.”
Several colleges had already eliminated loans for certain income brackets when Williams began considering the option in 2018, though none had also eliminated work-study requirements, Bianchi said. Williams had already gotten rid of loans for families with incomes below $75,000 and intended to slowly increase that threshold after improving other college costs, such as health insurance and summer storage, for low-income students.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the college handed out what it was supposed to be a one-time on-campus job replacement grant that gave students outright funding instead of requiring them to work for it. In response, students told Williams administrators that the change removed the burden of determining how they would earn the necessary money and how much they could keep or send to their families, Bianchi said. These comments helped the college decide to eliminate work-study in addition to loans.
A previous version of this article misrepresented the national average for college endowments. It’s $1.1 billion, not $1.1 million. The article has been corrected.