Financial aid sees a slight increase in applications

As a part of what appears to be an emerging national trend, the College is reporting a “fairly significant” increase in the number of financial aid applications this year. Applications for aid are up 7.6 percent for first years and 2.6 percent for upperclassmen, according to Paul Boyer, director of financial aid for the College.

This increase is consistent with a similar pattern seen across the country, as reported recently in an article in The New York Times. Increases of up to 50 percent were reported at Skidmore College, 39 percent at the University of Michigan, 30 percent at Bowdoin and 14 percent at Barnard, among other schools. Amherst reported an average increase of $7,000 in aid packages over the last semester, and an increase in students who are re-applying for more aid mid-semester in response to changing family situations.

“Compared to other institutions that we have read about recently in the press, our situation is much less dramatic,” Boyer said. “Some colleges and universities cite increases in aid applications of between 15 and 50 percent. Obviously there is something very different about the economic diversity of the student populations on those campuses that we do not see here at Williams.”

Boyer and others point to the recent economic downturn as the probable cause of the shift. “I can only speculate that the economic downturn is taking a toll on families with children in college. We are certainly beginning to see a significant number of applicants in the first-year class who report one or sometimes both parents having been unemployed for 12 months or longer. It ranges over all income levels.”

While the changes are significant, the Office of Financial Aid believes it will have no problems continuing its policy of providing financial aid for all demonstrated need. “Williams expects to be able to meet an increase in need for financial aid families and have factored this into our budget projects for the short term,” Boyer said. “Our policy of fully meeting the demonstrated need of all our eligible families is the cornerstone of our aid program and we do not foresee making any changes in the coming year.”

Other institutions have had difficulty adapting their financial aid structure, in part because these increasing demands come at a time when many colleges’ endowments are shrinking, according to The New York Times. While the College’s endowment has shrunk by nearly $400 million since June 2000, the financial aid office believes that this the decrease will not factor into financial aid policies. “The aid program at Williams is covered largely by the scholarship endowment. Other institutions are not as fortunate and rely more heavily on current operating revenue. Such aid programs may be jeopardy, especially if the increase in demand for aid dollars pushes upwards of 20-30 percent,” Boyer said.

Additionally, recent changes in Williams’ financial aid policies could account for the increase. Boyer remarked, “With the Class of 2006 we saw an increase in aid applications of 5.8 percent,” said Boyer. We attributed that largely to the higher number of applications from international students given our shift to a need blind admission policy for this population. This year’s increase is also due in part to this policy change.”