Financial aid rules force students to rethink WSP plans

A conflict with the College’s commitment to need-based aid will restrict the Gaudino Fund from distributing money to students for the 2004 Winter Study Program (WSP).

The problems emerging for a while around the WSP course SOC 021, “Williams in New York,” came to light last week. Organized by Robert Jackall, Gaudino Scholar and professor of sociology, the course offers five students from Jackall’s SOC 207, “New York, New York,” the chance to participate in different internships in New York City. At the conclusion of this semester’s course, Jackall plans to select five students from those applying for the WSP course. In addition to the internship, these students would attend a weekly seminar and take part in various field trips. Tentatively, the internships include jobs at “a major newspaper agency, a policy institute and a museum.”

The original description of the course also stated that the Gaudino Fund would “provide modest scholarships for the five students selected for the program on the basis of a competition.” According to Keith Finan, associate Provost and director of grant administration, the problem with the proposal lies with this issue of a stipend, which is supposed to cover the cost of meals and other expenses. Finan also saw problems with the proposal’s idea of a “competition” for acceptance to the program, for which each student would receive a “prize” on the basis of his or her proposal.

Providing students with this extra money, Finan explained, is similar to giving an award for the proposal and thus, resembles merit-based aid. Students who are not already receiving financial aid would get the money, as would financial aid students. This would undermine the College’s commitment to providing aid only to students who need it.

“If we can’t include an item in the budget for all students, then we can’t include anyone,” said Paul Boyer, director of financial aid.

“We like what they’re doing, we think it’s admirable,” Finan said. “Now the question is: how can we do that without being in violation of our need-based aid policies?”

What makes the question over the stipends even more complicated is the College’s active participation in the President’s 568 Working Group – a national consortium of colleges and universities that have been working together on a common aid methodology. Named after a federal provision that allows top schools committed to need-based aid to establish common standards on financial aid, the group consists of more than two dozen institutions, including Stanford, Duke and Amherst.

But while the College has always been a devoted advocate of need-based aid in the consortium, there is a need for much closer attention to its policies this year since President Schapiro is now the Chairman of the 568 Group. Thus, as Finan notes, the administration must be “particularly sensitive” to situations like the Winter Study course where merit-based aid and need-based aid come into conflict.

“We are nationally known as an institution that promotes need-based aid,” Boyer said. “Morty is in the limelight defending need-based aid, so policy has to be consistent across the campus on how we award aid.”

Finan said that the College has recently reconsidered its policies by examining the amount of aid given to each financial aid student doing a WSP 99 project. The College also increased the personal expenditure budget for all students in order to make it easier to pursue WSP 99s.

Even so, the debate over Gaudino Fund money could even have an impact on a number of students outside SOC 207. Each year, the Gaudino offers three competitive $1000 grants to students whose 99 proposals pursue “critical, reflective [and] experiential learning.” But now, any plans to distribute that money have been cancelled and the applications of the students, who are waiting for decisions on their proposals, put on hold.

Last week, Michelle Smith ’04 sent in an application for an anthropology 99, hoping to receive one of the grants. Her proposal described a travel project in which she would “study the cultural/intellectual property rights debate surrounding the traditional Maori practice of ta moko (tattooing) in New Zealand.”

“I think students who submitted applications for the Gaudino grant are feeling frustrated that this announcement from the Provost’s office came after they had taken the time to prepare and submit their proposals,” she said. “Gaudino’s intention to offer these grants was evident as early as this spring with their budget proposal…but to the knowledge of the student body, [the Provost’s] decision was only announced late last week.”

When the College compiles a financial aid package for an individual student, it does not take the costs of WSP into account, since the programs and expenses are extremely variable. Thus, a financial aid student submitting a WSP 99 proposal may apply for additional aid in the fall. According to Paul Boyer, director of financial aid, in most instances, those applying for aid may receive 50 to 90 percent coverage of their expenditures. But since the College only awards up to $500 to fund a proposal, many students, especially those planning travel projects, find that the amount is too often barely enough to cover expensive airplane fares.

Smith, a financial aid student, is upset that her project may now cost much more than she anticipated. “I attended Williams because of the school’s commitment to encouraging intellectually engaging independent projects,” she said. “The WSP 99 could be an incredible opportunity, and it is unfortunate yet realistic that finances can be a limiting factor for many students.

“The limitations are there, and I know several students were extremely enthusiastic about the potential to take their education even further with the generous support of the Gaudino Fund.”

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