New director of financial aid discusses plans for future

Paul Boyer ’77 has been promoted to director of financial aid from associate director of financial aid, replacing Phillip Wick, who retired last spring after 20 years at Williams.

“Spending more time in the trenches, less time in meetings,” Boyer said is the prime difference between his new and old positions. Boyer doesn’t regret spending more time in the committee room, as he said “it allows me a better perspective on the whole campus as I get to work with people from other offices.”

No newcomer to Williamstown, Boyer has spent all but two years of his life here. He was born in town and graduated from Williams with a degree in biology. His family has a strong local presence. “My brother David works in Security and the rest of the Boyers in the Williams directory are cousins.”

After graduating, Boyer went to teach at the Canterbury School in Connecticut, but left when he decided “the job was glorified, underpaid baby-sitting.” He returned to Williamstown and worked as a lab assistant in the psychology department.

While working as a lab assistant, “I tired of doing the same procedure over and over, but knew that I wanted to stay in higher education,” Boyer explained. “The financial aid office had an opening for an intern who was a recent graduate, which I applied for, and, probably aided by the fact that Phillip Wick had been my freshman advisor, got.”

The internship turned into a permanent position and eventually into the post of associate director.

Boyer’s early years as associate director were marked by great changes in the financial aid world. “The US government got picky: we had to verify matters such as Selective Service registration, citizenship and a lack of drug violations for all students receiving federal aid. The situation became intrusive and the paperwork intensive,” Boyer said.

Additionally, there have been changes in the way colleges with which Williams competes distribute their financial aid. Boyer explained that “there used to be an overlap group, schools with common applicants in the northeast, which would compare the offers they made mutually admitted students to ensure they were making similar award packages. In this way, students could choose their school based on non-financial aspects as financial aid awards would not differ greatly among institutions in the overlap group.”

In 1989, the Department of Justice abolished the overlap group, charging that the institutions were “conspiring.” Since that time, individual schools have gone their own way.

“Harvard, Princeton and Yale have been moving towards a gentler treatment of parental assets and as a result, awards have been going up.” Boyer noted. Other schools have lowered loan expectations.

Williams has, according to Boyer, taken two steps to react to this situation. “We’ve begun to allow students to replace loan and work expectations with outside scholarship money.”

Previously, half the value of the outside scholarship went to reducing the student’s grant. “We’ve also rethought our student loan borrowing system. Our foremost goal is to aid our neediest students, so we’ve reduced the loan expectation for these students,” Boyer said.

Boyer sounded his distress about the way institutions have begun competing with each other for students via their financial aid offices. “We institutions, if we want to get down to the basics of helping students in need, need to start working together. We need to start sharing post-award data.”

The Department of Justice prohibits sharing information about awards offered to commonly admitted students.

While some colleges now offer non-need scholarships, Williams continues to provide only need-based financial aid. “Most schools use merit-based scholarships for recruitment or enrollment management. Williams has such a strong applicant pool, we don’t need merit-based scholarships for either of the above,” Boyer said.

The Financial Aid office has a reputation for being involved in some of the less positive aspects of the College administration.

Boyer comments: “My job is a very positive experience, but the process can be frustrating for some families. We try to help them understand how we make a decision. When there is negativity on the part of parents, it often stems from a difference in what we judge as their ability to pay and what they see as the amount that they are willing to pay.”

Boyer has no plans to make substantial changes to Williams’ financial aid policies.

“I’m here to carry on the tradition. At Williams, the Financial Aid office has a sound and solid foundation. I am a strong believer in need-based financial aid and, because of strong development activities, we have the resources to continue with this tradition.

“I don’t envision myself making significant changes in the process,” Boyer said.